Google Maps to Incorporate Augmented Reality to Prevent Distracted Walking

Out of the way? Google map is what you need / Photo by: Natee Meepian via Shutterstock


Google unveiled an AR-enabled Google Maps at the 2018 I/0 developer conference, allowing attendees to have a sneak preview on how AR can be assimilated smoothly into everyone’s daily life, according to Christina Bonnington, writing for the Slate.

Distracted Walking

Google Maps will employ AR to control one of the social ills that go hand-in-hand with the use of cellphones -- distracted walking or texting while walking. Distracted walking is no longer just a minor if irritating issue but is a serious and fatal problem. Data from the Governors Highway Safety Association show that there were 6,000 pedestrian deaths in 2016, an 11-percent increase from the previous year. The rise in the number of pedestrians killed was blamed by safety experts on smartphones and distracted walking.

Distracted walking has been blamed as the culprit why employees at Apple’s new headquarters kept bumping into the glass panes as they walked with their heads down, obviously engrossed with their smartphones. The town of Augsburg in Germany had resorted to embedding the traffic lights on the sidewalk so they can be seen by pedestrians who are busy using their phones.  



Visual Positioning System

AR, however, holds the promise of making walking safer and less confusing. For instance, a future iteration will feature camera tools that will allow Google Maps to use AR for overlaying turn-by-turn walking instructions and animations over the real-time feed from a user’s phone camera. The phone’s screen is divided between a map of the vicinity where the user is walking and the video stream from the phone’s camera. An arrow will indicate the direction that the user has to take and the on-screen map’s orientation will rotate as the user transfers from one actual location to another.

Pedestrians who are hopelessly attached to their cellphones can safely use the phones and see where they are going at the same time, thanks to the magic of AR. There is also the likelihood that cellphone manufacturers can come up with an augmented reality walking mode. Since the full screen is not needed in activities such as texting and e-mailing, it can be partitioned into something similar to having the camera’s feed at the top of the screen and whatever app is being used below. Given such a set-up, pedestrians can walk and type while still being able to see where they are going.

But such a solution is only temporary until AR headsets and glasses that digitally overlay information in a less obtrusive manner are developed. It remains to be seen though if new models of Google Glass would be rolled out anytime soon, although reports have it that this may happen in 2019 or 2020.

Using AR is just an example of how technology companies are looking for ways of merging technology with everyday life in a useful manner. Among these are the dashboard and suite of tools developed by Google that enable users to manage the time they spend using mobile devices.


Google map is now 'engineered' to prevent distracted walking for its users / Photo by Ingo Joseph via Pexels


Chaim Gartenberg of technology news website The Verge claims that the AR features will integrate Google’s Street View and Maps data. Besides giving directions, AR can help identify nearby landmarks and establishments, as well. Google is also testing a virtual reality animal guide to help users lead them along the way.

On the other hand, Stephen Schenck of Android Police reported that the marriage of Street View and Google Maps is being called by Google as the Visual Positioning System and will have more than the conventional GPS and compass sensor data but will still also rely on the phone’s camera to help users identify the world around them. Google plans to roll out the VPS on standard Android handsets and will be available even in non-Tango indoor locations.

Google Maps will also get a new tab called For You that will make recommendations customized specifically based on user preferences. The For You tab will have a new match number system that will produce a personal score on how much the user will like the recommendations based on past likes and reviews, as well as saved food preferences. For instance, if the user prefers ramen over pizza, it will be considered in the recommendations.  

Video Game Development

Besides street navigation, Google Maps can be used by game developers to develop AR-enabled video games through the Unity game engine. Google’s application programming interfaces will convert buildings, roads, and parks found on Google Maps into GameObjects. Game developers can incorporate their own textures and styles and customization into the objects to decrease the amount of rendering needed in generating a virtual world.

By using the Google Maps APIs, game developers can easily convert the world into a medieval fantasy, a bubble gum candy land or a zombie-infested post-nuclear-war city. Tapping into Google Maps’ massive infrastructure will enable developers to have faster response times, the ability to scale on demand, and the assurance that the product will be a success.