GEORGE TOWN - Soon, with just a click on the Internet, anyone around the world can view and "experience" what its like to travel along the new second Penang bridge.
This has been made possible through Google Maps' Street View, which recently shot a 360o view of the Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah bridge through cameras fitted onto a car.
Street View enables users to visually explore and navigate neighbourhoods and other special locations through its panoramic street-level views.
A sports-utility vehicle, with a turret on the roof housing 15 camera lenses pointing in all directions, was used to achieve the majestic view of the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.
Aided by an on-board global positioning system, the vehicle went at a steady pace on the 24km bridge, automatically recording and mapping the bridge's features during an off-peak period on March 10.
The driver of the vehicle went at a steady pace along the bridge and did not encounter any difficulties although the contraption on the roof drew curious looks from passing motorists.
Besides this iconic bridge, Street View has already recorded off-the- road tourist spots in Penang, such as the historic Fort Cornwallis, Penang War Museum, Kapitan Keling Mosque and the 211-year-old Dhammikarama Burmese Temple.
These four locations were recorded using the same camera system, but mounted on a backpack, giving users an inside view of these tourist spots.
Besides Penang, Street View users can take a peek at 14 other tourist spots in the Klang Valley from the comfort of their homes.
They are Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir; Taman Putra Perdana; Putrajaya; Taman Rimba Riang Park; Selangor; Taman Tasik Shah Alam; Selangor; Sunway Lagoon; Shah Alam Go Kart; Taman Desa Water Park; Taman Tasik Titiwangsa; Taman Rimba Kiara; Taman Botanical Kepong; Taman Tasik Kepong Metropolitan; Masjid Sultan Sallahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah; Shah Alam; Sri Subramaniam Temple; Batu Caves, and Desa Park City.
According to Google, the Street View car is presently recording images in Seremban, Bentong, Temerloh, Kinta Valley in Ipoh, Kuala Terengganu and the Klang Valley.
Street View allows users to 'walk' through cities and is great for armchair visitors and tourists.
Google Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, communications and public affairs head, Zeffri Yusof, said users could visually explore neighbourhoods through these street-level pictures.
"Street View strives to showcase our real world as vividly as possible, providing rich and detailed maps for users."
Zeffri said local authorities in Malaysia had been very supportive of Street View's efforts to bring Malaysia's unique sights to the whole world.
"We have full support from the government, including Tourism Malaysia, Department of Survey and Mapping, Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, and state governments. Before we head out anywhere to capture imagery, we inform the local authorities."
According to Google, the car is equipped with three lasers, reflecting off surfaces to measure how far buildings or objects are, helping them to construct 3D models for the maps.
Many factors have to be considered when doing Street View mapping, including the weather and population density, to determine the best time and imagery.
Signals from sensors in the car help realign and tilt the images to match their geographic location on the map.
To access Street View, go to Google Maps (maps.google.com) and search for the desired location.
Places without Street View are often supplemented with publicly shot panorama photos using the Photo Sphere function.