ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: Google mapping San Francisco Bay

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- You probably know about Google Street View. But very soon, you'll be able to use it to get a whole new perspective on the Bay Area. It's a story you'll see only on ABC7 News.

It's just an ordinary boat, but it's getting a lot of attention because of what's traveling behind it.

"People just call out, 'Oh, it's a Google boat,'" said San Francisco Baykeeper staff scientist Ian Wren.

And they're right.

Armed with a cadre of cameras and boatload of batteries, the little remote-controlled catamaran is taking Google Street View far beyond the edge of the pavement.

"The coolest thing about this is that everybody's gonna be able to go onto Google Maps and actually see the shoreline from the bay, which is gonna be a new perspective for a lot of people," said Google Earth Outreach Manager Karin Tuxen-Bettman.

Google's not doing it alone. In fact, the guy at the controls comes from the nonprofit group San Francisco Baykeeper.

When asked if he's good at it, Wren said, "No, I was not a gamer my entire life, but I've slowly gotten a little better at it."

Baykeeper plans to use the images for educational features on its website -- tracking sea level rise, pointing out pollution, and fragile wetlands. It's all done with this device called the "Trekker" on loan from Google.

"The whole idea of the Trekker Loan Program was to put it in the hands of nonprofits, of governmental groups that are working in the areas they care about," Tuxen-Bettman said.

Now, the trekker was originally designed to be worn like a backpack. But it wasn't long before Googlers figured out there was a lot more they could do with it. So this is just the latest Trekker hack, designed to get images from places that used to be impossible.

Google first showed us the Trekker two years ago -- and even let us try it on.

Since then, Tuxen says, "We've been able to mount it on trucks, on snowmobiles, on ATVs, on dogsleds, and now on this boat."

In the next few weeks, they'll finish covering between 400 and 500 miles of shoreline from San Jose all the way up to Antioch. And they've already learned a few things.

"I've noticed that a lot of wetlands are only a couple inches above high tide, so with a couple inches more, a lot of those will be flooded," said Wren.

It's important science that governments can use to help protect the bay as cities grow.
But if you just like to look at the breathtaking view, well, they say that's okay too.

I think first and foremost, I am just interested in getting people connected to the bay to a greater extent," Wren said.

You'll be able to explore the bay on Google Street View starting this summer.
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