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Google Street View Goes Artistic

Street View isn't just about streets anymore. Expanded Google Art Project adds 360-degree walk-throughs of famous artwork and its housing, including White House portraits and rooms.

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Google's Street View increasingly has nothing to do with streets. The company's latest addition to Street View comes in the form of images of art galleries and the art within them, part of an expansion of the Google Art Project.

Launched in February last year, the Google Art Project uses the Street View interface in conjunction with an artwork grid interface--Museum View--to present pictures from great museums around the world. The result is the ability to navigate through included museums via Street View and to examine the artwork therein in exquisite detail.

On Wednesday, Google announced an expansion of the Google Art Project: High-resolution Street View imagery is now available for 51 partner sites, up from 17 last year.

The project now includes over 30,000 high-resolution artworks, suitable for detailed examination. Some of these have been captured as "gigapixel" photos, which allow fine details such as brushstrokes to be seen.

[ Read Google Demos Its Augmented Reality Glasses. ]

Although the new venues include traditional museums such as the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, they also include places that serve functions other than tourism and education, such as The White House in Washington, D.C. "Thousands of people have walked these halls and gazed at the artwork," First Lady Michelle Obama says to digital visitors in a short welcome video. "And now you can do all of that without leaving your home. So go ahead, look around, enjoy the history and the beauty of these rooms."

Google characterizes the project as part of its commitment to bring culture online through the Google Cultural Institute, which also has been involved with projects such as the digitization of the Dead Sea Scrolls and an effort to bring the personal archives of Nelson Mandela online.

Google has been driving Street View off the paved path more and more frequently. In February, the company, working in conjunction with Australia's University of Queensland and insurance multinational The Catlin Group, took its technology to the oceans with Seaview. Last summer, Google revealed that it had been capturing Street View images of the Amazon rainforest. The company also has mounted Street View cameras on tricycles to photograph the paths in parks. In addition, its Street View photographers have been exploring inside businesses, in the Swiss Alps, and through a variety of other off-road places.

Such expansive roaming is a bit surprising considering that only three years ago, privacy-loving residents of the English village of Broughton--perhaps prescient of the Street View privacy debacle to come--surrounded a car capturing Street View images and prevented it from entering their town.

But with Google developing glasses that can capture everything the eye can see, there's no telling how many streets, scenes, vantage points, and vistas will be made available in Street View.

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