MANATEE -- Yes, the beach trekker does look as if he's carrying a big insect on his back, but it's just the latest cool Google technology, adapted to capture images of 825 miles of Florida beaches.
Tech giant Google is partnering with the state tourism marketing corporation to capture 360-degree panoramic images of the Sunshine State's glam beaches, enabling potential visitors to check them out on the Internet before they ever leave home.
Trained by Google Maps experts, two teams started July 15, and will cover roughly 50 miles of beach per week, according Kevin McGeever, senior editor at Visit Florida, the state tourism marketing corporation.
One team is tentatively scheduled to work in an area from Palm Harbor to Sarasota, which includes Manatee County, during the week
of Sept. 23, said McGeever Wednesday.
A Bradenton Beach resort owner was enthusiastic about the project.
"That's awesome. That's very cool technology," said Gayle Luper, owner of the Bungalow Beach Resort, 2000 Gulf Drive. "A lot of people use Google to find us, but now, they can also use it to see the beach."
One team member carries a 40-pound backpack with a camera system on top. It boasts 15 lenses angled in different directions to capture a complete picture.
The other team member scouts ahead, takes still pictures for a journal and tracks the weather.
Then, they switch.
Once the images are edited, integrated into Google Maps and uploaded to Internet websites, anyone with access to a computer can enjoy panoramic views of Florida's world-class beaches beginning next year, said McGeever.
Although Google Maps has used cars equipped with similar technology to map street views across 5 million miles and 50 countries, the company wanted to expand to places cars can't go, said Sierra Lovelace, a spokesperson for Google at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
"There are places in the world that are important to document with Google maps, so we developed a fleet of street-view platforms or vehicles with the same technology that can go places cars can't go," she said, noting company transportation alternatives include snowmobiles, trolleys and trikes.
However, the Street View Trekker can eyeball places even trikes and trolleys can't negotiate, she said.
Google's partnership with Visit Florida involved the loan of two Trekkers under a financial arrangement Lovelace declined to discuss, she said.
"The beautiful thing is that, both on Google and on our site, visitors can look for their favorite beaches -- by name, geography and region," said McGeever. "It'll be a great tool."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.