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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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