Could StreetView imagery be used to enhance Google Maps accuracy?

Google Blogoscoped has raised an interesting idea: could Google use OCR on their StreetView imagery to improve the accuracy and/or functionality of Google Maps? There are a number of intriguing possibilities:

  • Simply make the maps more accurate. If you can read an address off of a building, or the name of a business, you’d know exactly where to place the pin in Google Maps.
  • Make text searchable. Even if a new location wasn’t in Google Maps yet, you could still help people find it if they searched for the right keywords.
  • Overlay translations. If you are browsing a location that isn’t in your native language, Google could overlay translations of the words found in the photos.
  • If Google could update the imagery more often, you could find sales, job openings and other tidbits like that. I can’t imagine they could update it that quickly, but you never know what might happen a few years down the road.

Other suggestions from the Blogoscoped forums include inserting ads (maybe even overwriting billboards), or using face-detection to try to identify criminals. I think Google would face some serious opposition to the second idea (and maybe the first), but it’s interesting to see the ideas that people come up with.
The tricky part to this is obviously the OCR. You’ve got relatively low-quality photos (at least that’s what they show us), taken with a wide variety of light, at different angles, different fonts, etc. It wouldn’t be easy. However, applications like Evernote with its amazing OCR can give us some hope. Google certainly has the technology and the horsepower to get this done, but I wonder if they’ll try it or not?
What other cool things could Google do with this if they decided to implement it?

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. It’s a great idea, but I’m amazed at how many signs and street numbers, particularly in Los Angeles and other U.S. locations, can’t be read in the Street View imagery due to the very low resolution.
    Thing is, whether the signs are used for OCR or not, they are part of what make Street View so useful. However, the cr*ppy resolution, as well as the fact that many signs are blurred because the blurring program obviously mistakes them for license plates and faces, reduces some of Street View’s usefulness IMO.
    I’m hoping Google figures out how to improve the accuracy of their blurring code, so they can provide higher resolution imagery.

  2. smokeonit says:

    i already used street view to edit addresses and make them more precise…. 😉

  3. I’m sure their source photography is in much higher res than what’s online to load faster and save everyone’s bandwidth.
    I’d be interested to see if Google could translate Street View imagery into 3D data. Ie, take half a dozen photos of the same building, give it to a program that identifies the buildings are the same, creates their outline in 3D space, overlay the right image to give a texture, and exports to the Google Earth imagery. Of course, you’d only get the bottom 20ft or so and everything would tend to interpreted as rectangular. The DARPA Challenge vehicles are doing it already with mixed results.

  4. Slightly off-topic, but I was slightly disappointed that Google did not use Street View to update the accuracy of the roads on the maps. New roads which have opened have had Google cars driven down them taking photos, but do not appear in Google Maps beacuse of the shocking quality of the mapping.

  5. I found updated roads for Google Earth in the USA. The lines are thinner, probably to clear up clutter when viewing roads close to each other. Google Earth also shows some roads that they didn’t show before.

  6. As for the blurry photos, I’ve noticed that in some locations, like Europe, the photos are much higher resolution than the ones they have for the U.S. Even the latest images are so blurry that you can’t make out a business’ name on a building.
    Street View is a great idea, but like GE itself, without high resolution imagery, it’s not nearly as useful.

  7. o2radical says:

    I really appreciate GE but, with the latest upgrade I’ve found the resolution to be just awful! With previous versions, I could clearly make out the entire landscape of places I was viewing now, everything at a viewing level close enough to truly envision, it’s nothing but a blur. While I understand there may be some sort of privacy issue, I really liked being able to send email ‘photos’ of some of the places I had visited. Now, unless I’m viewing someplace remote I could get better pictures from a plane with my cell phone! They really should put an enhance resolution button on here somewhere… or perhaps I missed it?

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.