Google Giving Virtual Tours of Cedar Rapids Businesses

By Forrest Saunders, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - We all know Street View, that Google feature famous for showing first-person perspectives of addresses, and the often hilarious unintentional shots of weirdoes nearby.

Forrest Ward is a photographer bringing that technology inside Eastern Iowa businesses to create something new.

"I'm capturing the images to create a seamless virtual tour that is like Street View," said Ward.

Ward is one of a handful of Iowa photographers Google has certified for their Business Photos program, launched in 2012. Businesses typically pay a few hundred dollars to get one of those tours shot. They'll then pop up when the business is Google searched.

"It allows the consumer to see where they're going to shop," said Ward.

Currently, Ward is shooting a soon to be tour at Cassill Motors. He used a tripod and camera with a wide angle lens, snapped pictures in four different directions, then moved about fifteen feet at a time.

"Move from spot to spot to spot and kind of check out the building," said Ward.

Images are sent back to Ward's colleague for some work, and then stitched together by Google. It takes only a few days to get a tour online and businesses said it's well worth the effort and money.

"We want people to be comfortable before they come in. We're just regular people and we want them to know that. Sometimes it can be intimidating to go into a new store," said Stephanie Prochaska, a manager with Cassill Motors.

Ward said only about 60 Iowa businesses have signed up for the program. But he expected that number will grow as more and more people see the potential of Street View, turned business view.
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