Used previously to photograph Stonehenge, the Google Trike was mounted atop a motorboat that sped along the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon, the cameras incessantly snapping pictures. It was then slowly pedaled along Tumbira’s dirt paths, past wood-plank homes and onto the soccer field. A special tripod-mounted camera was used to shoot inside the small school here and taken along a forest trail that led into a sea of green, where the Googlers were met by a cacophony of singing birds.
The cameras produced countless images that, once stitched together and posted online later this year, will provide a digital mirror of a slice of wilderness and village life that most people will never see in person.
“You’re floating down the river and you see a community and you stop and you get off the boat and then hike up the hill to the community and then walk around,” said Karin Tuxen-Bettman, a strategist for Google Earth Outreach, who spent a week here overseeing the project. “It’s exactly how it is when you are up there, except maybe without the smells and sounds.”
The villagers, at first surprised by all the outsiders who had arrived in their hamlet, are now excitedly awaiting the final product.
“It was such a surprise, not what I expected,” Socorro Soares de Macedo said sheepishly, describing Google’s recent whirlwind, three-week stay in her village. “Now they’ll see us here from over there. I think they’re going to find it beautiful.”
The project here joined technology and environmental activism, with the goal of broadly circulating panoramic, 3-D photographs to show how people in one small community can protect the world’s largest forest and live off it at the same time, say Google officials and a local environmental organization that hatched the idea, the Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon, or FAS.
“One thing we always want people to know is the Amazon is not only about trees and biodiversity,” said Raquel Luna, who coordinates FAS’s efforts to educate villagers about conservation. “It’s also about people and communities. We’re talking about people that sometimes are forgotten by the world.”
Cameras and a cause
With the well-known Street View, Google has photographed cities worldwide, including dozens in Brazil, as well as landmarks ranging from the Roman Colosseum to the Golden Gate Bridge. Armchair travelers can tour the Prado museum in Madrid, fly close to the Great Pyramids at Giza or stroll along the Mall in Washington.
Then there is Google Earth Outreach, which maps and photographs remote spots, working closely with communities under duress or activists with a cause.