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Last published at August 7, 2009 at 8:35 PM

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Tricycles comb streets for Google images

Google has hired two young cyclists to ride through gardens, historical sites and other pedestrian-only areas to take thousands of digital photos.

The Associated Press

PARIS — Parisians and tourists, relax. That goofy-looking tricycle equipped with loads of high-tech equipment roaming the streets is not some mad scientist's invention on the rampage.

The three-wheeler is quite a sight with its long pole holding nine cameras, a GPS, a computer and a generator. But the contraption tooling around the French capital needs all that gear to do its job — adding three-dimensional images to Google's Street View Maps.

The U.S. company has hired two young cyclists to ride through gardens, historical sites and other pedestrian-only areas to take thousands of digital photos.

"The idea is to be able to offer 360-degree images of places that were inaccessible before," Google spokeswoman Anne-Gabrielle Dauba-Pantanacce said.

The riders, wearing Google T-shirts and white helmets, are visiting well-known sites such as the Château de Versailles, west of Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg on the city's Left Bank and Les Halles, in the busy center of the French capital.

Google is to map Paris until Aug. 20, then head to the north of the country. In the fall, the tricycle goes south, Dauba-Pantanacce said.

The company plans to add new photos to their Street View option in all French cities with tourist areas.

Similar tricycles already combed the streets of Britain and Italy in June and July, said Dauba-Pantanacce. Google also plans to make 3-D maps of streets in other European countries.

Since its launch in 2007, Google's Street View has expanded to more than 100 cities worldwide, and not everyone is happy about it.

Last month, Greek officials rejected a bid to photograph the nation's streets until more privacy safeguards are provided.

In April, residents of one English village formed a human chain to stop a camera van, and in Japan the company agreed to reshoot views taken by a camera high enough to peer over fences.

Google's European Public Policy blog says the company is in contact with a group of representatives from all 27 European Data Protection Authorities. The group has asked, among other things, that Google set a time limit on how long unblurred copies of photos are kept, which it has not done.

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Google did recently accede to German demands to erase the raw footage of faces, house numbers, license plates and individuals who have told authorities they do not want their information used in the service.

When the camera snaps a photo, everything — faces and license plates included — is in focus. Special software then blurs the picture.

Spotted Friday at La Defense, the tricycle looked decidedly out of place at the modern high-rise business center on Paris' western edge.

A clunky white pole in the back holds an octagonal platform with eight cameras on the sides and one on top. Every minute, the cameras take bursts of high-definition photos to allow online users to get a virtual tour of the area.

"I rode two hours this morning," said 25-year-old Gregory Landais, who was taking a break after cruising through La Defense, France's touch of Manhattan. "For a site like this, it can take up to five hours."

The photos of Paris and other major French cities to follow were expected to be available online by the end of the year.

One curious sightseer was 46-year-old Jose Mountinho of Portugal.

"I've already seen Google Maps, but I had no idea how they did it," Mountinho said.

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