Google Maps has announced a number of new features coming soon, ranging from weather updates on the map to AR-powered indoor navigation. There is a lot to cover, and the company says it is on track to deliver “over 100 AI-powered enhancements to Google Maps” this year.
First, there is a new user interface for directions. Today, the directional interface uses tabs for each mode of transport: one for driving, then mass transit, walking, touring and cycling. In this redesign, everything is displayed in a flat list, but now you can press the “option” button and specify preferred modes of transport. You can prioritize route options for driving, walking, trains, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, touring shares, “bicycle and scooter parts” and ferries. You can even choose several things, so all your best choices will be first in the list.
Some of the route options will have a small green leaf next to them, which is part of Google Maps’ new focus on promoting cleaner transport methods. For driving, the Google Maps route screen will soon take into account fuel efficiency, and you will also see a green leaf next to the fuel efficient routes. In many places, the shortest route is the most fuel efficient, so not much will change. But Google Maps will calculate things like traffic, start and stop, and road height (a major concern in Google’s backyard in California) to come up with a CO2 assessment for each trip. If it finds a route that is more fuel efficient but longer, it will tell you about it, and if both routes take the same amount of time, the fuel efficiency will be used as a hyphen for the standard route.
Google says both features will be released sometime this year.
Google Maps takes the weather
There are two new layers coming to Google Maps that give the service some competition with your favorite weather app: air quality and weather. Weather is almost always something you should look at before you travel, and soon you will be able to get that information right in Google Maps. For allergy sufferers or people in places where air quality is a regular problem, seeing that information will easily be useful as well.
Google says: “Data from partners such as The Weather Company, AirNow.gov and the Central Pollution Board are driving these teams, which will begin rolling out on Android and iOS in the coming months. The weather layer will be available globally, and the air quality layer will launch in Australia, India and The United States, with more countries coming. “
Currently, the presentation of this information is very limited. The most obvious way to display weather and air quality data is with an overlay that shows rain and air in radar view, with different colors indicating the intensity. Google Maps only shows this data as small, random dots on the map, similar to how POIs appear. This makes it difficult to decide where the rain starts and stops, how long it will linger, whether it will get better or worse in the next few hours, or how bad the weather will be while driving there. Adding this information directly to Google Maps is likely to cut a large portion of the weather app industry, since overlapping data on Google Maps is a core feature, but perhaps Google is more receptive to a first-party weather solution now that Apple is investing in the Dark Acquisition area Cloud.
Indoor AR navigation
Google Maps AR Navigation moves indoors. The feature rolled out to iPhone and Android devices in select cities in 2019 and uses AR Core-based 3D sensing and Google’s trove of street-view images to determine your direction via the camera and what it’s pointed at. Outdoors, the feature ended up being the world’s most complicated replacement for a compass, but compasses in phones (especially Android phones) are just not as accurate and prone to interference, so getting the first direction correctly using just one compass can be a challenge. AR Navigation, in addition to the cool 3D graphics loaded on a camera, is really a big help.
It sounds like AR Navigation is going to really shine when it comes to indoor navigation. Google demos feature in an airport terminal, where it can do things like find out your location (GPS does not work indoors) and identify which floor you are on. In the demo, it tells someone where the escalator is and to go down a level to reach the terminal. Google says it wants to roll out this technology to “airports, transit stations and malls”, where it will be able to “help you find the nearest lift and escalators, gate, platform, luggage requirement, check-in counters, ticket office, toilets, ATMs and more” . “
Indoor navigation has been something Google has continually tried to get companies to adopt, pitching solutions such as Wi-Fi RTT – Wi-Fi-based positioning – which was built into Android 9. I think the company has realized that any method that requires independent Businesses to install and maintain some kind of technical infrastructure are not going to work. AR Navigation feels like a more scalable option because Google can do all the work itself. It’s powered by nothing but your camera and a bunch of images stored on Google Maps – Google calls this VPS, or Visual Positioning System – and it’s basically AI-powered landmark navigation.
VPS data is the same as Street View data, so it can scale in the same way as Street View scales, by sending out hordes of contractors around the world to photograph everything with special equipment. You could argue that it’s too much work to photograph all major indoor public spaces, but Google has already proven that they can do this with Street View. The company professionally manufactures its own Street View backpacks now, so sending a contractor on a brisk march through your local airport, train station or mall should be enough for VPS data. “Just take pictures of the whole world” is entirely within Google’s capabilities.
Google calls the feature “Indoor Live View” and says it “is now live on Android and iOS in a number of malls in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San José and Seattle. It is starting to roll out in the in the coming months in selected airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich, with more cities on the way. “
Now, if we could just get this in an AR version of Google Glass, that would be great.