Even as vaccines make it safer to travel, planning a trip is becoming increasingly complicated.
Many states use color-coded tiers to signal coronavirus restrictions. Why are they all wildly different?
Google is announcing a handful of major updates to Google Maps today that range from bringing its Live View AR directions indoors to adding weather data to its maps, but the most tantalizing news — which in typical Google fashion doesn’t have an ETA just yet — is that Google plans to bring a vastly improved 3D layer to Google maps.
Using photogrammetry, the same technology that also allows Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to render large swaths of the world in detail, Google is also building a model of the world for its Maps service.
“We’re going to continue to improve that technology that helps us fuse together the billions of aerials, StreetView and satellite images that we have to really help us move from that flat 2D map to a more accurate 3D model than we’ve ever had. And be able to do that more quickly. And to bring more detail to it than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Dane Glasgow, Google’s VP for Geo Product Experience, said in a press event ahead of today’s announcement. He noted that this 3D layer will allow the company to visualize all its data in new and interesting ways.
How exactly this will play out in reality remains to be seen, but Glasgow showed off a new 3D route preview, for example, with all of the typically mapping data overlayed on top of the 3D map.
Glasgow also noted that this technology will allow Google to parse out small features like stoplights and building addresses, which in turn will result in better directions.
“We also think that the 3D imagery will allow us to visualize a lot of new information and data overlaid on top, you know, everything from helpful information like traffic or accidents, transit delays, crowdedness — there’s lots of potential here to bring new information,” he explained.
As for the more immediate future, Google announced a handful of new features today that are all going to roll out in the coming months. Indoor Live View is the flashiest of these. Google’s existing AR Live View walking directions currently only work outdoors, but thanks to some advances in its technology to recognize where exactly you are (even without a good GPS signal), the company is now able to bring this indoors. This feature is already live in some malls in the U.S. in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, but in the coming months, it’ll come to select airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich as well (just in time for vaccines to arrive and travel to — maybe — rebound). Because Google is able to locate you by comparing the images around you to its database, it can also tell what floor you are on and hence guide you to your gate at the Zurich airport, for example (though in my experience, there are few places with better signage than airports…).
Also new are layers for weather data (but not weather radar) and air quality in Google Maps. The weather layer will be available globally on Android and iOS in the coming months, with the air quality layer only launching for Australia, India and the U.S. at first.
Talking about air quality, Google Maps will also get a new eco-friendly routing option that lets you pick the driving route that produces the least CO2 (coming to Android and iOS later this year), and it will finally feature support for low emission zones, a feature of many a European City. Low emission zones on Google Maps will launch in June in Germany, France, Spain and the UK on Android and iOS. More countries will follow later.
And to bring this all together, Google will update its directions interface to show you all of the possible modes of transportations and routing options, prioritized based on your own preferences, as well as based on what’s popular in the city you are in (think he subway in NYC or bike-sharing in Portland).
Also new are more integrated options for curbside grocery pickups in partnership with Instacart and Albertsons, if that’s your thing.
And there you have it. As is so often the case with Google’s announcement, the most exciting new features the company showed off don’t have an ETA and may never launch, but until then you can hold yourself over by getting your weather forecasts on Google Maps.
Augmented reality and directions in the windshield: Integrated systems run (precise) laps around earlier technology, like a piano-roll device from the 1930s.
The crowdsourced guide collects anonymous gripes and pins every grievance on an interactive map, creating a record of the irritating sounds and sights of Japan.
You’re going to need some double-sided tape.
An update to Google’s Street View app on Android will now let anyone contribute their photos to help enhance Google Maps, the company announced this morning. Using a “connected photos” tool in the new version of the Street View app, users are able to record a series of images as they move down the street or a path. The feature requires an ARCore-compatible Android device, and for the time being, will only support image capture and upload in select geographic regions.
ARCore is Google’s platform for building augmented reality experiences. It works by allowing the phone to sense its environment, including the size and location of all types of surfaces, the position of the phone in relation to the world around it, and the lighting conditions of the environment. This is supported on a variety of Android devices running Android 7.0 (Nougat) or higher.
Meanwhile, Google’s Street View app has been around for half a decade. Initially, it was designed to allow users to share their own panoramic photos to improve the Google Maps experience. But as phones have evolved, so has the app.
The updated version of the Street View app allows users to capture images using ARCore — the same AR technology Google users for its own Live View orientation experiences in Maps, which helps phones “see” various landmarks to help users get their bearings.
After the images are published in the Street View app, Google will then automatically rotate, position and create a series of connected photos using those images, and put them in the correct place on Google Maps so others can see them.
It will also use the same privacy controls on these contributed photos as are offered on its own Street View images (the ones it captured by driving the Street View car around). This include blurring people’s faces and license plates, and allowing users to report imagery and other content for review, if needed.
The new system of connected photos won’t be as polished as Google’s own Street View images, but it does make the ability to publish to Street View more accessible. Now, the image capturing process no longer requires a 360-degree camera or other equipment mounted to a top of car, for example. And that means users who live in more remote regions will be able to contribute to Street View, without needing anything more than a supported Android phone and internet connection.
Google says it will still default to showing its own Street View imagery when it’s available, which will be indicated with a solid blue line. But in the case where there’s no Street View option, the contributed connected photos will appear in the Street View layer as a dotted blue line instead.
The company will also use the data in the photos to update Google Maps with the names and addresses of businesses that aren’t already in the system, including their posted hours, if that’s visible on a store sign, for instance.
During early tests, users captured photo using this technology in Nigeria, Japan and Brazil.
Today, Google says it’s officially launching the connected photos feature in beta in the Street View app. During this public beta period, users will be able to try the feature in Toronto, Canada, New York, NY and Austin, TX, along with Nigeria, Indonesia and Costa Rica. More regions will be supported in the future as the test progresses, Google says.
People are getting frustrated that Stories are everywhere now, but Google Maps is keeping it old school. Instead of adding tiny circles to the top of the app’s screen, Google Maps is introducing its own news feed. Technically, Google calls its new feature the “Community Feed,” as it includes posts from a local area. However, it’s organized as any other news feed would be — a vertically scrollable feed with posts you can “Like” by tapping on a little thumbs up icon.
The feed, which is found with the Explore tab of the Google Maps app, is designed to make it easier to find the most recent news, updates, and recommendations from trusted local sources. This includes posts business owners create using Google My Business to alert customers to new deals, menu updates, and other offers. At launch, Google says the focus will be on highlighting posts from food and drink businesses.
For years, businesses have been able to make these sorts of posts using Google’s tools. But previously, users would have to specifically tap to follow the business’s profile in order to receive their updates.
Now, these same sort of posts will be surfaced to even those Google Maps users who didn’t take the additional step of following a particular business. This increased exposure has impacted the posts’ views, Google says. In early tests of Community Feed ahead of its public launch, Google found that businesses’ posts saw more than double the number of views than before the feed existed.
In addition to posts from businesses, the new Community Feed will feature content posted by Google users you follow as well as recent reviews from Google’s Local Guides — the volunteer program where users share their knowledge about local places in order to earn perks, such as profile badges, early access to Google features, and more. Select publishers will participate in the Community Feed, too, including The Infatuation and other news sources from Google News, when relevant.
Much of the information found in the Community Feed was available elsewhere in Google Maps before today’s launch.
For example, the Google Maps’ Updates tab offered a similar feed that included businesses’ posts along with news, recommendations, stories, and other features designed to encourage discovery. Meanwhile, the Explore tab grouped businesses into thematic groupings (e.g. outdoor dining venues, cocktail bars, etc.) at the top of the screen, then allowed users to browse other lists and view area photos.
With the update, those groups of businesses by category will still sit at the top of the screen, but the rest of the tab is dedicated to the scrollable feed. This gives the tab a more distinct feel than it had before. It could even position Google to venture into video posts in the future, given the current popularity of TikTok-style short-form video feeds that have now cloned by Instagram and Snapchat.
Today, it’s a more standard feed, however. As you scroll down, you can tap “Like” on those posts you find interesting to help better inform your future recommendations. You can also tap “Follow” on businesses you want to hear more from, which will send their alerts to your Updates tab, as well. Thankfully, there aren’t comments.
Google hopes the change will encourage users to visit the app more often in order to find out what’s happening in their area — whether that’s a new post from a business or a review from another user detailing some fun local activity, like a day trip or new hiking spot, for example.
The feature can be used when traveling or researching other areas, too, as the “Community Feed” you see is designated not based on where you live or your current location, but rather where you’re looking on the map.
The feed is the latest in what’s been a series of updates designed to make Google Maps more of a Facebook rival. Over the past few years, Google Maps has added features that allowed users to follow businesses, much like Facebook does, as well as message those businesses directly in the app, similar to Messenger. Businesses, meanwhile, have been able to set up their own profile in Google Maps, where they could add a logo, cover photo, and pick short name — also a lot like Facebook Pages offer today.
With the launch of a news feed-style feature, Google’s attempt to copy Facebook is even more obvious.
Google says the feature is rolling out globally on Google Maps for iOS and Android.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new digital map also includes updates on elevators and escalators that are out of service.
Googling something was all we once did with Google. Now we spend hours a day using its maps, videos, security cameras, email, smartphones and more.
A project from the Graphics desk wanted to find out if the color in your neighborhood, as seen from above, might indicate how you voted.
Google Maps is getting a significant update that will bring more detail and granularity to its map, with changes that encompass both natural features and city-level details alike. For the former, Google says it’s leveraged computer vision techniques to analyze natural features from satellite imagery, then color-coded those features for easier visual reference. Meanwhile, select cities including New York, San Francisco and London, will gain more detailed street information, like the location of sidewalks, crosswalk and pedestrian islands, for example.
These additions will help people better navigate their cities on foot or via alternative modes of solo transportation, like bikes and scooters, which some have opted for amid the pandemic in greater numbers. The supported cities will also show the accurate shape and width of a road to scale to offer a better sense of how wide or narrow a street is, in relation to its surroundings.
While the added granularity won’t include more accessibility features, like curb cuts for example, Google says that having the crosswalks detailed on the map will help in that area. The company also notes that Google Maps today displays wheelchair accessible routes in transit and wheelchair attributes on business pages.
The updated city maps won’t show up immediately in the Google Maps app, we understand. Instead, Google says the new maps will roll out to NY, SF and London in the “coming months.” The vague time frame is due to the staged nature of the release — something that’s often necessary for larger apps. Google Maps reaches over a billion users worldwide, so changes can take time to scale.
The company notes that after the first three cities receive the update, it plans to roll out more detailed city maps to additional markets, including those outside the U.S.
Meanwhile, users both inside and outside big cities around the world will benefit from the changes to how natural features are presented in Google Maps.
Google utilized a color-mapping technique to identify natural features from its satellite imagery, looking specifically at arid, icy, forested, and mountainous regions. These features were then assigned a range of colors on the HSV color model. For instance, a dense forest will now appear as a dark green while patchier shrubs may appear as a lighter green. You’ll be able to differentiate between beaches and greenery, see where deserts begin and end, see how much land is covered by ice caps, see where snowcapped mountain peaks appear, or view national park borders more easily, among other things.
These changes will reach all 220 countries and territories that Google Maps supports — over 100M square kilometers of land, from bigger metros to rural areas and small towns.
The update comes at a time when Google’s lead as everyone’s default mapping app is being challenged on iOS and Mac. While Apple Maps started out rough, a 2018 redesign and subsequent updates have made it a more worthy rival. Apple even took on Google’s Street View with its higher-resolution 3D feature, Look Around, which particularly targets big city users. More recently, Apple introduced a clever trick that allows you to raise your phone and scan the skyline to refine your location. And Apple is battling Google Maps’ explore and discovery features through its expanded, curated guides built with the help of partners. These updates have pushed Google to race ahead with improvements of its own in order to maintain its lead in maps.
Google says the new features and updates will roll out across Android, iOS and desktop in the months ahead.
Apple and Google have added handy features for these uncertain times.
Google Maps is making it easier for bikeshare users to navigate their city with an update to Maps now rolling out across 10 major markets. Already, Google Maps could point users to bikesharing locations and it has long since offered cycling directions between any two points. The new update, however, will combine both walking and biking directions in order to provide end-to-end navigation between docked bikeshare locations.
That is, Google Maps will first provide detailed walking directions to your nearest bikeshare location before providing turn-by-turn directions to the bikeshare closest to your destination. It then offers the final leg of the trip between the bikeshare drop-off and your destination as walking directions.
Before, users planning to use a bikeshare would have to create three separate trips — one to the first bikeshare to pick up a bike, the second to the bikeshare drop-off point and then walking directions to their final destination. Now, you can plan this outing as one single trip in Google Maps in the supported markets.
In addition to the new end-to-end navigation, Google Maps in some cities will also display links that allow you to open the relevant bikeshare mobile app in order to book and unlock the bike.
The feature is rolling out over the weeks ahead in 10 cities, in partnership with transportation information company Ito World and supported bikeshare partners. These include the following markets:
- Chicago, U.S. (Divvy/Lyft)
- New York City, U.S. (Citi Bike/Lyft)
- San Francisco Bay Area, U.S. (Bay Wheels/Lyft)
- Washington, DC, U.S. (Capital Bikeshare/Lyft)
- London, England (Santander Cycles/TfL)
- Mexico City, Mexico (Ecobici)
- Montreal, Canada (BIXI/Lyft)
- Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
- São Paulo, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
- Taipei and New Taipei City, Taiwan (YouBike)
Google says it’s actively working to add more partners to bring the functionality to more cities in the months ahead.
The launch of the new feature again one-ups Apple Maps, which recently announced it was catching up with Google Maps by adding a dedicated cycling option within Apple Maps that will optimize routes for cyclists. Apple’s new biking directions can even show if a route includes challenging hills or there’s a bike repair shop nearby, if desired.
Ito World also noted in March it had partnered with Apple to integrate bikeshare data into Apple Maps, allowing iPhone owners to find bikeshare locations across 179 cities.
But Google continues to offer more detailed bikeshare information in its Google Maps product, having over the years launched features like dockless bike and scooter integration with Lime in more than 100 cities and real-time docked bikeshare information in select cities to show availability of bikes for rent.
Offering better biking directions has become even more of a competitive product in recent months for mapping providers, due to the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on travel and transportation. Some commuters, for example, have shifted to using bikes for their trips instead of relying on public transportation, like buses and subways. Google notes this impact has also been reflected in growing worldwide search interest for phrases like “bike repair shop near me,” which hit an all-time high in July — more than double what it was last year.
The updated bikeshare navigation is rolling out in the coming weeks, says Google.
BMW today announced a number of updates to its in-car software experience during a VR press event, complete with a virtual drive through Munich to show off some of these features. These new updates will come to most recent BMWs that support the company’s Operating System 7 later this year — and new cars will already have them built-in.
The company is able to launch these regular updates because it is now able to not just update the car’s infotainment system but virtually every line of code that’s deployed to the various compute systems that make up a modern vehicle. And because of this, the company is now also able to bring a couple of features to market that it has long talked about.
One of those features — and maybe the key announcement from today’s event — are updates to BMW program for subscribing to specific hardware features that are may already be built into your car, like heated seats or advanced driver assistance systems, but that you didn’t activate when you bought the car. BMW has talked about this for a while, but it is now making this a reality. That means if you didn’t buy the heated seats and steering wheel, for example, your new BMW may now offer you a free three-month trial and you can then essentially buy a subscription for this feature for a set amount of time.
“We offer maximum flexibility and peace of mind to our customers when it comes to choosing and using their optional equipment in their BMWs, whether this BMW is new or used,” a company spokesperson said during today’s press event. “So flexible offers, immediate availability, simpler booking and easy usability for choice, at any time, when it comes to your optional equipment. We already started connectivity over 20 years ago and since 2014, we are online with our Connected Drive Store, where digital services can already be booked.”
Those were very much infotainment features, though. Now, BMW will let you enable vehicle functions and optional equipment on demand and over the air. The company started offering some features like active cruise control with stop and go functionality, a high beam assistant and access to the BMW IconicSounds Sport. The carmaker will add new features to this line-up over time.
Surprisingly, it’s often easier and cheaper for car manufacturers to build some hardware into cars, even if it is not activated, simply because it removes complexity from the production process. A lot of the features that BMW is talking about consist of a combination of software and hardware, though.
What’s new here is the ability to only subscribe to some features for a short time. “In the near future, we will not only be able to add more functions here, but we will also be able to add even more flexibility for our customers with temporary bookings so booking of options for three years, for one year, or even shorter periods of time, like a few months,” a spokesperson said.
The company also notes that this will give somebody who buys a used car a lot more flexibility, too. It’s worth noting that Apple CarPlay support was also originally a subscription feature in new BMWs, costing $80 a year. The company’s customers were not very happy about this, though, and the company reversed that decision last December. That really felt like nickel-and-diming drivers, though, since none of BMW’s competitors charged for this. It’ll be interesting to see how drivers will react to additional subscription services, but the focus now is more on convenience features that would usually be an option when you buy a new car, so my guess is that this will be less of an issue.
Among the other new and updated digital services the company showcased today is support for Apple’s new ‘Car Keys,’ which BMW brands as the BMW Digital Key, as well as an updated BMW Personal Assistant. Some of these new Assistant features are more cosmetic and about how it is showcased on the in-car display. But one nifty new Assistant feature here, for example, is a kind of IFTTT for your car, where you can easily program it to automatically roll down your windows when you enter your company’s parking garage, for example, so that you can easily scan your badge to open the boom gate.
Other updates include the new BMW Maps, the company’s built-in GPS system, which the company described as a ‘major leap.’ This cloud-based service can now find routes faster, has more granular traffic data and also includes the ability to find parking spaces for you — and that parking feature itself is based on a lot of work the company is doing in aggregating sensor data from across its fleet, which already covers and maps close to 99% of the German highway system once a day in HD.
Talking about maps, the company, which is still in the middle of the roll-out of its hybrid-electric vehicles, BMW also today announced that its hybrid fleet will make it easier for drivers to find charging stations and will automatically switch to electric driving when they enter low-emission zones in 80 European cities, with support for additional cities coming over time.
“Digital technologies belong to the core of BMW – because hardware and software are of
equal importance for premium cars,” said Oliver Zipse, the Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW. “Our mission is to integrate advanced digital technologies with highest product excellence to enhance our customers’ experience and driving pleasure even more.”
Crowdsourced navigation platform Waze, which is owned by Google and yet remains a separate, but intertwined product relative to Google Maps, just got one of its biggest UI and design overhauls ever. The new look is much more colorful, and also foregrounds the ability for individual drivers to share their current emotions with Moods, a set of user-selectable icons (with an initial group of 30) that can reflect how you’re feeling as you’re driving.
Moods may seem like a relatively small user-personalization option, but it’s actually a very interesting way for Waze to add another data vector to the crowdsourced info it can gather. In a blog post describing the feature, Waze Head of Creative Jake Shaw talks about the added Mood set, which builds upon the Moods feature previously available in Waze and greatly expands the set of expressible emotions.
“The fundamental idea of Moods has always been the same: to reflect how users feel on the road,” he wrote. “We had a lot of fun exploring the range of emotions people feel out there. A dozen drivers could all feel different in the exact same situation, so we set about capturing as many of those feelings as possible. This was critical to us, because the Moods act as a visual reminder of all of us out there, working together.”
Extending Moods to be more varied and personalized definitely has the advantage of being more visually appealing, and that could serve to boost its engagement among the Waze user community. They don’t mention this explicitly, but you can imagine that combining this as a sort of sentiment measure along with other crowd-reported navigational details, including traffic status, weather conditions, construction and more, could ultimately help Waze build a much richer data set and resulting analyses for use in road planning, transportation infrastructure management and more.
This update also includes a full refresh of all the app’s interfaces, using colored shapes based around a grid system, and new icons for reported road hazards. It’s a big, bright change, and further helps distinguish Waze’s visual identity from that of its sibling Google Maps, too.
Shaw talk repeatedly about the value of the voice of the community in informing this redesign, and it definitely seems interested in fostering further a sense of participation in that community, as distinct from other transportation and navigation apps. Oddly, this serves as a reminder that Google’s most successful social networking product, with the exception maybe of YouTube depending on how you define it, may well be Waze.
A recent expedition to the inky depths of the Coral Sea revealed an unknown world of creatures and geologic features.
Google has announced a new, welcome and no doubt long asked-for feature to its Maps app: wheelchair accessibility info. Businesses and points of interest featuring accessible entrances, bathrooms and other features will now be prominently marked as such.
Millions, of course, require such accommodations as ramps or automatic doors, from people with limited mobility to people with strollers or other conveyances. Google has been collecting information on locations’ accessibility for a couple years, and this new setting puts it front and center.
The company showed off the feature in a blog post for Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To turn it on, users can go to the “Settings” section of the Maps app, then “Accessibility settings,” then toggle on “Accessible places.”
This will cause any locations searched for or tapped on to display a small wheelchair icon if they have accessible facilities. Drilling down into the details where you find the address and hours will show exactly what’s available. Unfortunately it doesn’t indicate the location of those resources (helpful if someone is trying to figure out where to get dropped off, for instance), but knowing there’s an accessible entrance or restroom at all is a start.
The information isn’t automatically created or sourced from blueprints or anything — like so much on Google, it comes from you, the user. Any registered user can note the presence of accessible facilities the way they’d note things like in-store pickup or quick service. Just go to “About” in a location’s description and hit the “Describe this place” button at the bottom.
Release your inner explorer. Here’s a way to relive, commemorate or envision a favorite place in the world by creating an illustrated map.
To write “The Address Book,” Deirdre Mask traveled the globe to probe the hidden histories and surprising implications of the names of our roads and thoroughfares.
We need to hit and release the brakes on physical distancing, again and again, until we safely get to immunity.
To slow the virus, Alessandro Vespignani and other analysts are racing to model the behavior of its human host.