If you remember, in May 2018, Google showed an augmented reality version of Google Maps during the Google I / O 2018 keynote. The function was described only as a "what if" and "Come [augmented reality] could appear in Google Maps ": no final release date has been given. Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal tried a true working version of this concept and, although there is still a release date, it seems that augmented reality Google Maps is moving from "What would happen if?" to a real product.
The Journal received a Google Pixel 3 XL with an "alpha" version of Google Maps to be tested. Just as it was shown to Google I / O, the new feature has increased the 2D, GPS and compass map system with a 3D augmented reality overlay and a camera-based positioning system. Basically, hold the phone up, and show a camera feed with directions overlaid on it.
The function seemed intended to solve many sore points that appear when using Google Maps in a large city. Densely concentrated points of interest mean that GPS is not accurate enough to move around, especially if you consider that GPS does not work well indoors or underground, or when you are surrounded by tall buildings, and can take several minutes to achieve maximum accuracy when you leave the outside. Smartphone compasses are also generally terrible when you're stationary and you have to figure out which way to start walking.
This new version of Google Maps increases the GPS and compass with a precise orientation determined by the camera of the phone. Just as the way a human being would orientate, the Google Maps AR camera would look at buildings and landmarks and, from the camera feed, will determine exactly where you are and in which direction you are facing. Back to Google I / O, this was called "VPS" or "Visual Positioning System".
A project like this is leveraging many of Google's strengths. The hyper-detailed data from Google Maps gives you a precise positioning of the stores, at the end of the street side where the address is and where the building is located. Google's algorithms for artificial vision and cloud computing can take your camera's feed and compare it to a vast collection of Street View imagery to know where you are and where you're heading. Directions and business information can be superimposed on a photo feed, in 3D, thanks to Google's augmented reality toolkit.
WSJ states that the function is started via a new "Start AR" button and after "a few seconds" the camera has been able to nail a place with "remarkable precision".
Google notes that it has not yet been run with the design and that the AR version of Google Maps is still being optimized. Again, there is not even a release date. The main point of support is that Google has not forgotten AR Google Maps and is planning to bring it to market at the end. As we have seen in the past, just because something is shown to Google's I / O and gets a great reception does not mean that Google will make it and publish it. The most infamous example is Google's Google Photo "Object Removal" demo for Google I / O 201
AR Google Maps is about to exit. While the Journal failed to establish a true launch date, it revealed that tests start with Google Maps "Local Guides" (people who leave many reviews and make their way into the Google Maps rankings). The rest of us will have to wait.
Today, Augmented Reality is used almost exclusively for random games and technology demos, but Google Maps actually presents a general and useful use case for AR. Translating two-dimensional and two-dimensional map data in the real world seems to make navigation on foot much easier and using a camera for location could be a real improvement of janky magnetic compasses and poor GPS city performance. And yes, one day when we're all walking with an augmented reality version of Google Glass, an app like this would be really nice.