Thursday, June 20, 2024

Google Maps launches immersive, AI-powered updates 

As of 2023, Google Maps has logged more than a billion active users each month and 20 billion kilometers of directions searched every day. Such an immense, demanding user base comes with pressure to keep the app fresh and Google Maps constantly innovates in the hopes of retaining its users.

On Oct. 26, the app launched its most recent batch of upgrades backed by artificial intelligence (AI). The technology empowers the app to offer an Immersive View for routes, revamp its Google Search, promote sustainability with information targeted towards Electric Vehicle (EV) users, as well as release several other expansions.

Front and center in the updates is the Immersive View for routes. Where previously users could only trace their route on a two-dimensional map, the new feature enables them to see their whole route from a multidimensional perspective. They can now confidently head out, advised for each turn with detailed, visual turn-by-turn directions.

Additionally, this view comes with a time slider, which shows a route’s varying traffic and weather conditions during different parts of the day. A savvy traveler can avoid traffic jams and inconvenient rains by previewing their route.

Immersive View for routes rolled out last week in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Florence, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Tokyo and Venice on Android and iOS. There is currently no date for when it will be released in other areas.

Notably, the AI powering this feature is also being utilized to help developers. Immersive View’s multidimensional perspective is produced by AI that merges billions of Google Street View and aerial images. The same technology creates Photorealistic 3D Tiles on Google Maps, which developers can use in their own apps so they do not have to build maps from scratch.

AI is also playing a part in other expansions revealed during the event. For example, it is providing more detail in Google’s Navigation Map. Over the next few months, commuters will see realistic buildings to help them pinpoint their location during the final stretch of their journey and more accurate lane information on highways to assist them in making tricky exits. This comprehensive map will arrive first in 12 countries, including the US, Canada, France, and Germany.

Another major expansion announced is that Lens in Maps will be available in more areas. This feature uses augmented reality and AI to enable users to learn important facts — such the wait time to get into a restaurant or the location of an ATM — simply by panning their camera over the place in question. This feature will shortly be accessible in over 50 new cities including Austin, Las Vegas, Rome, São Paulo and Taipei.

Besides improving its routes, navigation, and map, AI-enabled Google Maps to offer alternate ways for people to use its built-in search function. For example, users no longer need to know the name of a place to search for it.

Beginning last week, they can now enter a specific query such as “best animal latte art” or “parks with my toddler,” and photo-first results will pop up. After tapping on a photo that sparks their interest, users can learn more about it or navigate straight to its location.

These visual results are produced by AI and image recognition models that analyze photos shared by the Google Maps community. As of last week, only users in France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US can try out this new way to search, but this feature is planned to expand to more countries over time.

Another Search update called thematic results is targeted towards users who do not have a specific activity in mind. Now, when a broad query is submitted to the app, suggestions organized by theme will appear.

For instance, users on holiday in Tokyo could search for “things to do” and suggestions organized by themes like “anime”, “cherry blossoms” or “art exhibitions” will be presented directly on the Maps app. Users can then tap on the suggested places to learn more or save them to a list. This feature will be accessible to Android and iOS users globally over the next weeks.

Lastly, Google Maps is making it a point to incorporate more sustainable features. Last year, they focused on fuel efficient routes and adding more cycling lanes to their app. During last week’s update, they sought to appease EV drivers worried about running out of charge midway through their drive.

Where EV charging information is available, Google Maps will soon show these drivers whether a charger is compatible with their vehicle and whether the available chargers are fast, medium, or slow to help them find a charging station that meets their needs.

“AI continues to play a pivotal role in how the future of Google Maps is evolving and adding tons of value. We couldn’t be more excited for how this [technology] will really be used to change the game for consumers and developers as they navigate and explore the real world,” stated Chris Phillips, Google Geo VP and general manager.

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