If you live in the Seattle area, or have visited, and have had the pleasure of boating on Lake Washington, chances are you’ve drifted past the Medina mansion of Bill Gates and family for a closer look at how the billionaire set lives. Maybe you’ve even snapped a few pictures, hoping to preserve your offshore visit to the Microsoft co-founder’s $60 million lakeside dwelling.
Paolo Tosolini, tech veteran and founder of Bellevue, Wash.-based Tosolini Productions, decided to go beyond floating snapshots. He captured the property and the surrounding Lake Washington shoreline — the state’s wealthiest zip code — with a 360-degree camera atop a boat, and uploaded the images for anyone to experience on Google Street View.
Tosolini Productions is a digital agency and innovation lab, investing time and resources in emerging media to expand its storytelling capabilities. Tosolini attended the Google Street View Summit in Mountain View, Calif., this year and became enamored with the idea of contributing to the platform, which has been opened up to third-party contributors.
“I was inspired by speakers who used my same camera (Insta360 Pro) to map villages in Pacific islands, South African parks and trails in Italy,” Tosolini told GeekWire. “When I came back to Seattle, I purchased a car mount with suction cups and did my first experiment mapping a piece of the Microsoft campus that wasn’t on Google Street before — Building 83. I learned the workflow and wanted to try something even more innovative, such as mapping a piece of Lake Washington.”
Because the best boat is your friend’s boat, Tosolini hooked up with Seattle entrepreneur and boat owner David Geller. Further solidifying the Gates connection, Tosolini previously spent about eight years at Microsoft, and he and Geller both worked at Paul Allen companies — Geller at Starwave and Tosolini at Asymetrix. Geller is founder and CEO of mobile communication platform Spryly.
The two tech vets share the same passion for RD and have been experimenting with new ways to use interactive 3D images for training purposes — such as this peek inside Eastside Fire Rescue Station 83, where Geller volunteers. When Tosolini reached out with the idea of mapping part of the lake, Geller was on board, literally.
Tosolini and Geller were joined on the project by VR designer Michael Gelon and producer Carly Kienow. The Insta360 Pro was secured to roof of the boat using tripod suction cups. The team captured 30 minutes of spherical footage at 5 FPS and 8K resolution.
“Google then extracts individual frames from the video and creates the connection between photos,” Tosolini said. “The footage needs to be geolocated, so we connected a GPS to the camera and we powered the entire rig directly to a boat outlet. Although batteries can last around an hour, it’d have been inconvenient to swap batteries along the way.”
Three 10-minute segments of the Medina shoreline were recorded. Tosolini said a failure to stop the boat during the pausing and restarting of the recordings resulted in missing small segments of the lakefront. Once the recording was finished, it needed to be stitched together with proper software — and a powerful PC — before being submitted to Google. Google then took 48 hours to process the data and integrate the footage into its maps.
Because of recent smoky skies in the Seattle area from wildfires in Eastern Washington and British Columbia, the final images have a hazy appearance — here is Yarrow Point and here is Bill Gates’ house.
Tosolini said he doesn’t think Gates will take offense.
“Our experiment was conducted with no intention to breach anybody’s privacy,” Tosolini said. “Our images were taken from public property with the goal to enhance the overall Google Street View experience. We just did it from the water instead of a street.”
As far as mapping more of the lake, Tosolini said that while it can be a fun activity during summer downtime, it takes time and resources, and to do it at scale he figured they’d need to look into some funding.
Google has already mapped Lake Union and the Seattle waterfront from the water.
“It’s hard to beat Google at its own game,” Tosolini said. “But the good thing is that Google Street View allows you to both map brand new locations and/or refresh previous ones. When new updated footage is submitted, it creates a time machine feature so you can go back in time and see how the surroundings have changed.”
He added, “I hope that this experiment inspires others to keep contributing to Google Street View as it helps everybody discover the world around us.”