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Google's Cartographer is a backpack for mapping the insides of buildings

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Every nook and cranny — if you're willing to do the legwork

Google has an unusually high interest in strapping small computers to people's bodies in the name of bettering the spread of information. The latest example? Something called Cartographer, which — as the name suggests — is a project to map things. But for Cartographer, it's not just any things, but the insides of buildings. Where the company's Trekker backpack was designed to map and capture Street View imagery, this backpack is purely for mapping interiors of buildings, with humans doing the legwork.

Strapped to the backpack is a small computer with Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology that's connected to an Android tablet. As people walk with it on, it creates a map that's accurate up within 5 centimeters (about 1.9 inches). You can watch that happening the tablet and add points of interest on the fly, something Google hopes will make it easier to quickly map indoor locations. The company expects that to be especially useful for things like concerts, conferences, and trade shows, all of which may be there for just a day or two before disappearing forever.

Google Cartographer

The Cartographer joins Google's other backpack project, the Trekker, which is basically the same camera array and equipment you find attached to the top of one the company's Street View vans — but designed to fit on a human. Google will actually loan those out to schools, nonprofits, and research groups that want to create visual maps. It's been a simpler process for building owners that want interiors mapped; they could simply upload their floor plans to have them added to Google Maps. But again, the reason this exists is to capture things where that information simply may not be available.

The project is a joint effort between Google's Cultural Institute and its indoor maps team, and began as one of the company's 20 percent efforts. The first fruits of that labor are six indoor maps, including one of all 39 stories of San Francisco's Marriott Marquis hotel, which can be viewed in Google Maps later today.