Google launched a new Maps mode on Wednesday, which is designed to give users a more realistic look at where they are going before they go. The New immersive show It’s a kind of street view in the sky: you can look at a location from above to get a sense of the neighborhood and then go back to street level to see the exact places you might want to go. Maps cover live occupancy and traffic information, so you can get a near-augmented-realistic view of any park, street corner, or beach spot you look at.
All the images behind the global view are computer generated, a mix of Google satellite images and Street View footage. As you move through it, it feels like you are playing a video game on medium graphics in a neatly scaled real world. “We are able to combine them together, so we can understand the heights of the buildings. How do we combine that with Street View? How do we combine it with the aerial view to make something that looks a lot like you were there?” says Liz Reed, Vice President of Engineering at Google.
Reed described the feature as offering the magic of Google Earth’s massive zoom, but at a neighborhood level. She said Google has been working on it for a while. “It’s something we’ve had demos on for years and it was like, ‘Oh, that’s the thing,’ but it didn’t really work. Now technology has gone a long way to making it look very natural.”
The immersive view works on most devices, Red said, but so far it works in a few neighborhoods in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, London and Tokyo. More soon.
As it pushes to make the Maps app a more realistic and 3D experience, it also opens some of that experience up to the app ecosystem. Third-party developers can now take advantage of Live View AR in Maps, which essentially gives them ultra-accurate real-world location tracking and an AR layer on top. Google is working with developers on apps that help you find a place to park your scooter, help you navigate stadiums, or just let you play AR games with dragons in the real world.
Google Maps is not really just an app for getting from one place to another. It is increasingly turning to a digital version of the real world, which could have huge implications as the scale of augmented reality increases and Google shifts its focus from crawling the web to crawling the Earth. And with the immersive view in particular, it became clear just how much Google could do with all the data it had.
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