Looking for a hawker stall? Find it on Google Maps by early 2020

Street View Trekker operator Keith Lee, 24, capturing indoor imagery at Dunman Food Centre yesterday. All 114 hawker centres here will have their individual stalls marked with separate pins on the Google Maps app by early next year, showing their exa
Street View Trekker operator Keith Lee, 24, capturing indoor imagery at Dunman Food Centre yesterday. All 114 hawker centres here will have their individual stalls marked with separate pins on the Google Maps app by early next year, showing their exact locations within the premises. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It will be easier for hawker centre patrons to look for their favourite stall online by next year.

All 114 hawker centres here will have their individual stalls marked with separate pins on the Google Maps app by early 2020, showing their exact locations within the premises.

In addition, app users will be able to use the in-app Street View feature to browse every stall virtually, and see the storefronts and signboards clearly.

This will be the first time the public can view the interior of a hawker centre via Street View. Previously, the feature allowed users to look only at the exterior of hawker centres.

The images will be captured on foot by Google operators with the latest version of the Street View Trekker - a system of seven 20-megapixel cameras mounted on a backpack providing a 360-degree view of the surroundings.

Besides virtually browsing a hawker centre's interior, app users can also look up detailed information of every stall there, including its name, stall number and photos via an online search on the app.

The joint initiative to document Singapore's hawker centres was announced by Google yesterday at Chinatown Market, together with the National Heritage Board, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore.

The three local organisations were behind the nomination of Singapore's hawker culture to the Unesco Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in March this year.

NEA deputy chief executive Khoo Seow Poh said this joint initiative will allow more than 6,000 hawkers to have an online presence on a platform that is widely used.

He added that the NEA will work with stakeholders, including hawkers' associations, to inform hawkers of the initiative and raise awareness of its benefits.

Five Trekkers will be used to collect data at the 114 hawker centres. They started yesterday at Chinatown Market and Dunman Food Centre.

The images will be collected and processed, and be ready for public use by early next year.

Among the centres whose imagery will be collected next are Geylang Serai Market, Tekka Market, Maxwell Food Centre and Golden Mile Food Centre.

Mr Amit Morya, programme manager of Street View APAC, said that the initiative helps bring the important hawker culture into the digital age.

"By documenting all 114 hawker centres, we hope to help more people get a glimpse into this fascinating part of Singapore's culture and ultimately help bolster the local hawkers' businesses," he said.

Hawkers do not need to pay for the service.

Ms Connie Chan, 48, who has been running the Happies Bak Kut Teh stall at Chinatown Market for three years, told The Straits Times that the added feature will increase the exposure of hawkers online and level the playing field with bigger names in the food and beverage industry.

Ms Chan said: "Hawkers like us don't have a very wide profit margin, so we won't actually pay to boost our posts on search engines, unlike the bigger eate-ries which probably pay for advertising.

"With this initiative by Google, everyone is on the same platform. It is fairer for everybody."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2019, with the headline 'Looking for a hawker stall? Find it on Google Maps by early 2020'. Print Edition | Subscribe