AI Brings Google Maps to Life: Immersive Experience for Better City Exploration

One of the most spectacular mapping updates is coming. Following the preview announced in 2022, Google Maps has finally begun rolling out its cutting-edge feature – immersive view.

Powered by artificial intelligence, the novel immersive view will blend a plethora of areal and Street View images to provide a digital model of the world. The feature should work on any smartphone or device without any limitations or technical requirements.

Though the rollout was confirmed in February, it was only a few days ago that users started noticing the new detail. The only drawback is that this innovation is available only to a handful of cities.

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ai powered google maps

Illustration: MilicaM

Today, exploring an unknown city without a smartphone is unimaginable. With map apps such as Google Maps, exploring new regions, discovering local attractions, and planning travels is more exciting and straightforward than it used to be only a few years ago.  

To make the overall exploration experience even more attractive and informative, Google is working on implementing an immersive view in Maps. The tech giant previewed the new feature at the I/O 2022 conference that took place last year but waited until February 8, 2023, to roll it out.  

But why is this immersive thing so special and what makes it different from existing Google Maps options? Well, it grants a more intuitive experience owing to AI and advanced computer vision. 

Digital world on your phone 

The immersive feature does not only offer a 3D model of buildings, skyscrapers, and tourist attractions and marvels. It enables users to virtually access and interact with them. Hence, you can locate the building, enter it, and roam through as if you were actually there.  

The AI-powered Google Maps include a time slider which lets you check out what an area looks during the day. This way, you can detect crowded areas and thus know whether and when to go there to avoid crowds. Plus, with the time slider, you can get insight into what the weather will be like. In case heavy rains or scorching heat are forecasted, you’ll be able to postpone or rearrange your trip. 

If you happen to be hungry, simply glide down the street and explore the local restaurants. Not sure what the vibe is like? With the new feature, you’ll be able to take a peek and see if the vibe is your tribe before you decide to book a table.  

Unfortunately, the new immersive view is available only in five cities for the time being – London. New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Five more are to come in the following few months, including Dublin, Amsterdam, Venice, and Florence.  

What makes immersive view possible? 

According to Google’s blog post from February 8, 2023, the technology that enables spectacular true-to-life scenes is NeRF – neural radiance fields. This advanced artificial intelligence technique turns ordinary images into 3D representations.  

NeRF allows for authentic recreations of the environment at a specific location. Thus, you can see what’s going on in the background, the texture of the material walls are made of or discover whether the light at a coffee shop is bright or dimmed. This way you’ll know whether the place is more suitable for lunch or dinner.  

Potential issues 

Since all these features are brand new and not many people have managed to test it, there seems to be very few issues.  

One Reddit user, however, complained about immersive view being completely different from the advertised feature. In fact, it seems to be pretty confusing. 

Another user complained about the immersive view feature eating up excessive amounts of data – in his case even 2 GB in only half an hour.   

Live View gets an AR boost 

Immersive view is not the only new feature Google will implement in the maps. With the artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) boost, Live View will be more fun to use. Not to mention that you’ll be able to navigate through unfamiliar and tricky places such as airports. 

To make use of AI and AR boosted Live View, simply lift your phone while in the street and you’ll get a bunch of useful information about the places located there – working hours, ratings, and frequency. This will spare you from visiting overcrowded restaurants or pubs with poor service. 

The AR-powered Live View is currently available in London, Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but will expand to Barcelona, Madrid, and Dublin in the upcoming months.  

The new feature will be extremely helpful if you get lost in an unfamiliar place. Lift your phone and AR-powered arrows will guide you in the right directions. Even if you’re not stuck but want to save your precious time, this is a quick way to find ATMs or taxi ranks, and navigate through shopping malls, stations, airports, etc.  

Save your time with glanceable directions 

Knowing which route to take to get to the desired location and how much time you’ll need to get there can be life-saving in some situations – when you’re in a terrible hurry or want to avoid traffic jams at all cost.  

Enter Google Maps glanceable directions to save your day.  

The new feature allows you to get around more easily regardless of the transportation method you’re taking. With it, you’ll be able to track your entire journey from the route overview and lock screen. The app will let you know the ETAs and where you take the next turn. 

But how is this different from the already existing feature? Both the routes and ETAs are included there. 

Well, the innovation here is that you don’t need to unlock your phone, open the app, and implement the navigation mode. The glanceable directions feature is available even on the locked screen and before you actually take the route. Should you decide to take another way, your trip will update automatically.  

Your EV battery will never die again 

With the gas prices and environmental awareness rising, more drivers are turning to electric vehicles (EV). While many drivers charge their cars at home, there is always fear the vehicle battery may get empty in the middle of a journey.  

To let you drive freely and not fearing a dying battery, Google Maps has seen an implementation a new feature for EV drives. The feature is available for vehicles which are equipped with Google built-in. 

You’re now asking how Google Maps can help with the battery that is about to die. Well, if you’re on a journey that may require battery charging, the app will suggest the best charging stop. While coming up with its suggestion, it will take various factors into account: current battery level, estimated energy consumption, and the state of the traffic. When you know there are charging stops nearby, you will be able to enjoy the drive without worrying too much about charging.   

Need a fast charge? No worries, with the new Google Maps feature you can find a fast charging effortlessly. 150 kW or higher will enable you fill up and return to the road in about 40 minutes.  

If you’re heading to supermarket, why not charge your car while doing shopping? In your search results, Google Maps will indicate places such as supermarkets that have charging station. This way you’ll be able to refill both your fridge and the car battery in one go.  

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