Google Maps using artificial intelligence to help point people in the right direction

A slew of features are being rolled out to Google Maps to help commuters easily get around indoors and in a more eco-friendly way.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Boasting that it is on track to bring over 100 "AI-powered" improvements to Google Maps, Google has announced a series of updates that have been or are set to be released in the coming year.

The first is adding Live View, a feature that uses augmented reality cues -- arrows and accompanying directions -- to help point people in the right way and avoid the "awkward moment when you're walking the opposite direction of where you want to go".

According to Google Maps product VP Dane Glasgow, Live View relies on AI technology, known as global localisation, to scan "tens of billions" of Street View images to help understand a person's orientation, as well as the precise altitude and placement of an object inside a building, such as an airport, transit station, or shopping centre, before providing directions.

"If you're catching a plane or train, Live View can help you find the nearest elevator and escalators, your gate, platform, baggage claim, check-in counters, ticket office, restrooms, ATMs and more. And if you need to pick something up from the mall, use Live View to see what floor a store is on and how to get there so you can get in and out in a snap," Glasgow explained in a post.

Image: Google

For now, the indoor Live View feature is available on Android and iOS in a number of shopping centres in the US across Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, with plans to expand it to a select number of airports, shopping centres, and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich. More cities will also be added, Glasgow confirmed.  

See also: Google Maps turns 15: A look back on where it all began    

Glasgow added commuters will be able to view the current and forecast temperature and weather conditions, as well as the air quality in an area through Google Maps, made possible through data shared by Google partners such as The Weather Company, AirNow.gov, and the Central Pollution Board. To be available on Android and iOS, the weather layer will be made available globally, while the air quality layer will launch in Australia, the US, and India, with plans to see it expanded in other countries.

On the environment, Glasgow also noted that Google is building a new routing model using insights from the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab to help deliver more eco-friendly route options, based on factors like road incline and traffic congestion, for commuters in the US on Android and iOS. The model will be available later this year, with plans for global expansion at an unspecified later date.

Image: Google

Glasgow said the move is part of the company's commitment to reduce its environmental footprint.

"Soon, Google Maps will default to the route with the lowest carbon footprint when it has approximately the same ETA as the fastest route. In cases where the eco-friendly route could significantly increase your ETA, we'll let you compare the relative CO2 impact between routes so you can choose," he said.

In further efforts to meet its sustainability commitment, the tech giant also plans to introduce in "coming months" an updated version of Maps where commuters will have a view of all routes and transportation modes available to their destination, without toggling between tabs, while also automatically prioritising a user's preferred transport mode or modes that are popular in their city.

"For example, if you bike a lot, we'll automatically show you more biking routes. And if you live in a city like New York, London, Tokyo, or Buenos Aires where taking the subway is popular, we'll rank that mode higher," Glasgow said.

Also, within Maps, Google said it is teaming up with US supermarket Fred Meyer to pilot in select stores in Portland, Oregon a feature that has been designed to make contactless grocery pickup easier, including notifying commuters what time to leave to pick up their groceries, share the arrival time with the store, and allow customers to "check-in" on the Google Maps app so their grocery orders can be brought out to their car on arrival.  

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