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Beam me around, Scotty

by Jim Andrews

TELEPORTER CONSOLE provides an unusual virtual travel experience. When you click the Teleport button, the program picks a random point on the Earth and displays a nearby interactive "photo sphere" 360° panorama from the experimental version of Google's Street View database.

Sometimes, instead, it displays a random custom panorama created for this project that isn't stored on Google's servers, such as the one below, which is the opening photo sphere.

Teleport buttonTeleport: Displays a random "photo sphere" panorama. In the mobile app, you can shake your device to the same effect. The program remembers where you have teleported for the last few sessions so as not to take you to the same places; it doesn't repeat itself frequently.

Map buttonMap View: View a map of the location associated with the current Street View panorama. The map is zoomable. You can view the map in three different styles: Noir, Map, and Satellite. Rather than always travelling randomly you can, if you like, select a location by positioning the Map View crosshair where you want it and then by clicking the Street View button.

Street View buttonStreet View: Return to Street View. The panorama that will be viewed will be the closest one to where the crosshair () in the middle of the map is located.

Back buttonBack: Go back to the previous panorama. The number inside the graphic indicates the number of the current panorama. The number starts at 0 at the beginning of a session and increments each time you visit a new location.

Share buttonShare: Share your current Street view. Copy the URL that is then displayed. When you paste that URL into an email or Facebook (or whatever), when someone clicks the link, they are taken to the web version of TELEPORTER CONSOLE and shown your precise current view.

There are several versions of TELEPORTER CONSOLE. There's a web version you view through a browser. This works well on both desktop and mobile devices. There's also a free mobile app version of the program for iOS and for Android. The mobile app is much like the web version except you can shake your device to teleport; and the app gets installed on your device, so you have quick, easy access to it rather than having to access it through the web. All versions require an internet connection.

Currently, TELEPORTER CONSOLE is primarily a superior interface into the remarkable, already vast and growing collection of "photo spheres" created by Google and by individuals who have contributed their photography to this database.

That TELEPORTER CONSOLE is as much fun as it is reflects the fascinating and global character of the photographic work in that database. You almost certainly will see many parts of the world you haven't seen before. It isn't "teleportation", which involves being physically transported instantaneously to another location, but I think you'll find the experience compelling. Many have commented that it is "addictive". I don't find it addictive myself, but I do find it enjoyable, educational, and seemingly endless in the number of panoramas.

Eventually, in a future version, TELEPORTER CONSOLE will also explore some of the narrative possibilities of linked 'photo spheres' beyond the notion of a tour. A tour is what you usually experience in the current linked panoramas from the Google database.

Just like hypertexts link texts, Google Street View links photo sphere panoramas. The little clickable arrows (you can also use the arrow keys to navigate) are hyperlinks between panoramas. There are all sorts of unexplored possibilities. Like what? Well, there are rarely any interesting events going on as we move from one panorama to another, and when people are present, they're usually incidental—or cut in half by the photo-stitching process. There is very little story telling going on. TELEPORTER CONSOLE can and does occassionally display linked panoramas that are not Google-approved, that are not part of the Google database of photo spheres. This project can explore the expressive possibilities of the environment freely, without having to conform to a Google vision of how the photo spheres should be.

Night Walk through Marseilles is one of the few pieces I've seen that starts to explore the narrative possibilities.

However, the Google database is not without its departures from photographic realism and sometimes includes interesting fictions. Take, for instance, the teleporter/time machine panoramas created by Google to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sci-fi television show Dr. Who. That Google did indeed create these panoramas is evident both from the credits displayed on these panoramas ("©2014 Google") at bottom right and also from various articles from newspapers published when these panoramas first appeared. London's Daily Mail wrote that "A Google spokesperson said: 'Inspired by the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, our engineers thought it would be a cool idea for users to find and tour the TARDIS from Street View level.'" Below we see the inside of the TARDIS and, below that, the entrance to the TARDIS.

As the Daily Mail article points out, Google projects sometimes include "easter eggs". Mostly Google takes care of business, but a database of street views should also be wonderful. It isn't simply a database of images on how to find your way to the store; it's an unprecedented map, a growing, changing collective photographic representation of much of the world--and some of the simply imagined worlds.

Another non-realistic panorama from the Google database is shown below. It is obviously Photoshopped: note how the curve defining the Earth does not quite line up. But it's fun and interesting and depicts a high-tech form of travel, like the TARDIS.

Below, we see another panorama from the Google database. It looks like a teleporter of some sort. What is it? Well, actually this is not fictive. You can click to open up the panorama and explore it to discover just what and where it is. It's not a teleporter, but it is a high-tech form of intergalactic imaginative transportation and inquiry.

So, yes, sometimes truth competes with fiction in its appeal to the imagination. The database of panoramas is not without imaginative appeal. It is apparently not stuck in simplistic realism. It's quite interesting not only because of the work of individuals who have contributed fascinating work but also, apparently, because the people at Google managing the matter are not sticks in the mud.

Another area of interest, for me, concerning Google Maps and Street View is what can be done with the API in terms of overlays, animations, and such. In other words, I'm interested in how Google Maps is becoming kind of a platform not without comparison to something like Flash and Director. Flash and Director were/are multimedia authoring tools. They weren't anchored to a map environment, unlike Google Maps, of course. They were general multimedia authoring tools. In Google Maps, we see multimedia functionality starting to emerge slowly and selectively. And we see Google Maps appearing in other multimedia IDEs such as for Android development and general web development in tools like Dreamweaver.

Maps and street views are an important part of the mobile computing environment to help us get around and find what we need. Exploring the imaginative and poetical possibilities of such technologies is something I enjoy doing and have enjoyed doing in TELEPORTER CONSOLE. Art is all about bringing it home to where we are; art is a map of the real and the imaginary, of all things.



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