You may not know it yet, but your location is almost as important as your email address and password. It is one of the things hackers and advertisers love to know, precisely because of how much we’ve come to unknowingly depend on it. From check-ins to store deals to, of course, navigation, we’ve come to rely on location data in our modern lives. Even in navigation, however, location can be a hit or miss, both powered and limited by GPS technology. That is why for the next evolution of Google Maps, the search giant is mashing together augmented reality, computer vision, and AI to deliver more accurate and more useful directions and information.
Anyone who has used Google Maps will be familiar with how it can sometimes place you a few meters from your actual position. Sometimes, that can ensue in hilarity. Other times, it can be frustrating. In the near future of self-driving cars, delivery drones, and, hopefully, more walking people, the rough location data provided by GPS won’t be good enough.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), Google is already working on it. Announced at I/O last year, Google Maps’ AR navigation feature is going out to some testers from the Local Guides group, including the Wall Street Journal’s David Pierce. While the feature is clearly still in its early stages, it already shows some potential.
The AR mode basically requires you to hold up your phone and scan your surroundings as the app compares buildings and landmarks with years’ worth of Street View data that Google has gathered. In addition to using GPS to pin down your rough location, the AR will then place you accurately where you really are and float AR arrows to point you in the direction you want to go. Plus, you can also enjoy the other pieces of AR information Google Maps may float around you.
Naturally, there will be a lot of questions and concerns regarding this feature, though Google has already pointed out some of them. For one, AR mode is not meant for car navigation considering how much attention must be paid to the phone’s screen. It’s not even designed to be used 100% of the time while walking, forcing users to put the phone down for a while, both to stop using the camera to save battery as well as a safety measure. There might be some concerns of privacy, considering AR mode will be capturing real-time footage of surroundings and people. Google does have a lot of time to figure those out, as it doesn’t have any plans of launching the feature to the wider public any time soon.