The Google Internet search engine giant has announced it will soon begin image collection in Israel for the Street View feature in its Google Maps software.

In the coming weeks, Google cars and trikes will begin driving around and taking photographs of streets and locations around the country. The images will be processed and carefully stitched together, a technical process that can take up to several months, and then will be made available in Street View on Google Maps.

The popular free feature, launched in May 2007 is already available in more than 30 countries around the world. It allows users to explore virtually and navigate neighborhoods as well as historical and cultural sites remotely through panoramic street-level images on the Internet. It is also available in Google Earth and on Google Maps for Mobile.

In the initial stages, image collection will focus on Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. The company said at a launch event held near the Old City walls of Jerusalem that it intends to extend the coverage to other areas and sites around Israel at a later date.

Meir Brand, managing director of Google Israel, South Africa and Greece, told reporters that when Israel's Street View imagery becomes available online, “Israel will be on the digital map – and the whole world will be able to see and experience its unique character.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barak added that the software would allow millions of people to virtually visit and explore the city through their computers and cellphones. “More than three billion people of faith around the world are interested in Jerusalem and wish to visit at least once in their lifetime,” he pointed out. “The service will allow everyone who wants to come to Jerusalem to better plan their visits and to taste the city before they even arrive.”

Both security and data protection authorities in Israel approved Google's plans to bring Street View to the country, and their methods, prior to the launch. As with all of its Street View imagery, Google said it would apply face-blurring and license plate blurring to protect individual privacy.

People will be able to request additional blurring of themselves, their homes or their cars from the company by clicking on “report a problem” once images are available.