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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

On the Next Episode of The Lead

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August 19th, 2013
06:41 PM ET

New Google technology uses travelers to map hard-to-reach places

No matter where Americans travel on vacation this summer, chances are Google Maps has already been there, driving through, taking pictures, and peering in from outer space.

But now, the omnipresent technology company is taking its cameras even further, with the "Google Trekker," a roughly 40-pound backpack with cameras that can capture 360-degree images.

This summer, the trekker is going where cars and satellites just can't go, like the Grand Canyon and the Lincoln Memorial.

"The cars wouldn't allow us to go everywhere we wanted to go," said Soufi Esmaeilzadeh, a partner development manager for Google.

Google could not drive cars between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, but the trekker can get there.

"It's wonderful to be in Washington, D.C., to be able to capture the beauty, all the history that's here, and allow our users to discover it all around the world," said Esmaeilzadeh.

Ultimately, Google wants the whole world mapped, trekked, and made accessible online.

This June, at the height of travel season, Google launched a pilot program to get more imagery at a lower cost, inviting third parties like tourism boards and non-profits to help. All they have to do is fill out the application online, state their purpose, and hope for a call.

"It allows users to discover places in the world that they may never have the opportunity to go to. Or plan a trip better because they can go outside the door of their hotel, through the streets of Washington, D.C., take a look at the National Mall before arriving here," said Esmaeilzadeh. "Our goal is to build the most comprehensive map."

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau was among the first to sign up, helping Google get better images of beaches off the beaten path.

But as Google knows, certain places – like a blob in the Netherlands, or an oddly blurred patch in Russia – are not as welcoming as the National Mall or the Grand Canyon. The company has to take in concerns of national security.

"We do go to a lot of public places that we can access, we also go to places that do require permission to film, so we work closely with our partners to ensure that we get the right permissions in place to come, and we also work with them to know which areas they want us to capture, versus which areas that would be more sensitive," said Esmaeilzadeh.

Some parts of the White House grounds are not as crisp as surrounding areas on Google Maps.

"We actually do our blurring based on user feedback that we receive. Interestingly enough, we've actually done a 360-image that we collected inside the White House," said Esmaeilzadeh.

CNN's Jake Tapper put on an "Alien Trekker" to see what Google sees. The trekker is about 4 feet tall, weighs 40 pounds, and comes with 15 lenses that take images in all directions. There is also a small computer where a disk stores captured data, a battery, and two GPS antennas that allow Google to know where the images were taken.

It wasn't exactly comfortable.

The footage of the National Mall will not be available for several months. The still images have to be sent to the Google campus in California, where they will be stitched together to create the 360-degree views displayed on Google Maps.

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