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Top Gear and NCTech capture 22 miles of the Rubicon Trail in high resolution 360°

iSTAR Fusion product shot
iSTAR Cam­era
360 Images

Top Gear USA in Los Ange­les approached NCTech with the idea to cap­ture in 360 degrees the Rubi­con Trail, which is both one of the USA’s tough­est and one of the WORLD’S tough­est off road trails cov­er­ing over 22 miles with 12 miles of rough rocky ter­rain.

Com­plet­ing the trail on its own is a chal­lenge with an aver­age speed of 2 mph and requires sleep­ing on the route, which takes sev­er­al days to com­plete.

Imag­ing such a long and dif­fi­cult ter­rain in high res­o­lu­tion 360 degrees would become one of Google’s largest inde­pen­dant projects and take Google StreetView off-road into ter­rain its road cars can­not.

Top Gear with iSTAR start­ing the Rubi­con Trail

One of many chal­lenges

In addi­tion to the scale of the project, there were addi­tion­al fac­tors that would need to be over­come, such as extreme weath­er swings from sear­ing heat in the day in California’s Sier­ra Neva­da moun­tains to cold weath­er at night, enough to cause many nor­mal cam­eras to fail.

The NCTech cam­era would have to remain in exposed for the entire dura­tion of the trip in order to cap­ture the entire view as it trav­elled.

Oth­er fac­tors such as extreme dust, rain, riv­er cross­ings, GPS and pow­er to the cam­era had to be con­sid­ered.

We agreed that the dri­ver of the vehi­cle could not be expect­ed to oper­ate the cam­era and take pic­tures as he drove. This would add fur­ther dan­ger to an already dif­fi­cult route and it would be too repet­i­tive and not be ide­al to have a lap­top inside the car to remote con­trol the cam­era.

Ready for anoth­er day of record­ing


NCTech had recent­ly launched the iris360 cam­era, which Google approved for its Google StreetView Trust­ed pro­gramme. How­ev­er, we decid­ed that our iSTAR® mod­el was the most suit­able cam­era for this task with auto­mat­ic tilt lev­el­ling. iSTAR was orig­i­nal­ly designed for the mil­i­tary, machined from sol­id met­al and is resis­tant to dust, rain, vibra­tion and impact.

The iSTAR 360 degree HDR 50 Megapix­el cam­era can be con­trolled by its inter­nal touch­screen, fea­tures time-lapse modes and can also be vehi­cle mount­ed. These fea­tures made it per­fect for the project, so it was mount­ed to the vehi­cle at the front of the con­voy, auto­mat­i­cal­ly cap­tur­ing images on time-lapse mode for the entire trip. The dri­vers of the vehi­cles could now con­cen­trate on dri­ving while the iSTAR cap­tured 1000’s of images along each step of the jour­ney, in full 360 degrees and at 50 megapix­el res­o­lu­tion includ­ing on-board GPS posi­tion­ing and hori­zon lev­el­ling.

Receiv­ing the iSTAR cam­era in a bar


Trip com­plete and over 100 GB of RAW image data col­lect­ed!

Once cap­tured, the data was processed auto­mat­i­cal­ly with­in NCTech Immer­sive Stu­dio, which also added the Top Gear logo to the bot­tom of each image, result­ing in over 6,000 high-res­o­lu­tion 360 degree 10K images ready to be uploaded to Google.

Due to the vol­ume of data, we then worked with Google to define a work­flow method to upload the images to Google Street View.

Arriv­ing to present to Google


The con­clu­sion of the Top Gear episode was filmed at Google’s offices soon after the com­ple­tion of the trip and NCTech were there to pro­vide hand picked moments from the jour­ney to form the basis of a pre­sen­ta­tion to Google by the Top Gear pre­sen­ters.

The Top Gear team were obvi­ous­ly delight­ed with their achieve­ment, as were Google but with the excep­tion of a few unusu­al images!

Watch the pre­miere of this season’s Top Gear avail­able now on the USA His­to­ry Chan­nel.

Top Gear impress Google


Follow Top Gear over rocks, ditches and rivers through 22 miles of the Rubicon.
View now on Google Maps 

The roof mount­ed NCTech iSTAR 360 degree cam­era cap­tures the cel­e­bra­tions of the Top Gear pre­sen­ters on suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ing the Rubi­con Trail

Neil Tocher with Top Gear

Neil Tocher (NCTech CTO) with Top Gear pre­sen­ters at Google, San Fran­cis­co 2015

Download the official press release

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