Mapping Out Singapore’s Hawker Centers with Google

An operator carrying a Google Street View Trekker ⓒ Google, Singapore

In March 2019 Singapore submitted its nomination to inscribe its hawker culture onto the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Hawker culture in Singapore comprises hawker centers (community dining rooms), hawkers, and hawker food. It is a living heritage shared by those who prepare hawker food and those who dine and mingle over hawker food in hawker centers.

As part of the Singapore government’s ongoing efforts to safeguard Singapore’s hawker culture for future generations, the National Heritage Board (NHB), the National Environment Agency (NEA), and the Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore (FMAS) have partnered with Google to document Singapore’s beloved hawker centers on Google Maps to make them discoverable to anyone looking for quality and affordable hawker food.

Through this public–private partnership, the parties involved hope to bring Singapore’s hawker culture into the digital age and help hawkers in Singapore establish their presence online through Google Maps and Search. The joint project also hopes to attract more customers and drive footfall to Singapore’s hawker centers, enabling the rest of the world to learn more about Singapore’s hawker culture.

The project comprises a collection of 360-degree imagery of Singapore’s hawker centers using Google Maps’ Street View that allows visitors to explore each hawker center to capture more accurate information about individual hawker stalls, such as name, stall number, and photographs. In addition, each hawker stall will receive a separate pin on Google Maps, showing its exact location within the hawker center, thereby allowing both local and visiting fans of Singapore’s hawker food to find their favorite stalls more easily.

According to Mr. Lim Gek Meng, Vice-President of FMAS and Chairman of the Chinatown Complex Hawkers’ Association: “Finding your way through a hawker center can be confusing, especially at bigger centers such as Chinatown Market. This project is beneficial to the hawker community as it will help customers locate hawker stalls with ease. Hawkers will also be able to personalize their online presence to reach out to more customers, at no cost and with little effort.”

As these hawker centers are located all over Singapore, from downtown to residential estates, a team of Google operators will travel to every hawker center and use the new Street View Trekker to capture the required imagery. Mounted on a wearable backpack, the new trekker comprises a state-of-the-art 360-degree camera system that captures and produces high-resolution panoramic images every two seconds.

Google’s team of operators will collect indoor imagery of all 114 hawker centers in Singapore, including Chinatown Complex, Geylang Serai Market, Tekka Market, Maxwell Food Centre, and Golden Mile Food Centre. The collection of imagery will be carried out in phases, and it is expected to be completed and launched on Google Maps by early 2020.