AR and Navigation: Google’s soon-to-be New Feature

Have you ever traveled to a new city or an unfamiliar spot in Boston, opened Google Maps to make sure you are walking the correct way, only to find out a few minutes later you began your walk turning the wrong direction? We’ve all been in this situation. Google may have found the solution for us. Let me introduce Google Maps with VR.

How it Works

Imagine Google Maps but with a live view of where you are headed. When looking to use the augmented reality version, tilt your phone in the upright position as if you were snapping a picture. Leveraging your GPS location, the app uses Street View data to narrow your exact location and displays arrows on your screen to make sure you are on track and heading in the right direction.

As you can see in the photo to the left, the real world in front of you takes up most of the screen, which the standard walking map is displayed in a small circle in the bottom of the phone screen. Per Google’s user-experience lead Rachel Inman, “it’s for those moments like, ‘I’m getting off the subway, where do I go first?’” It’s essentially built for those quick moments of confusion which could end up saving users the headache of walking the wrong way. The phone must be tilted upward because the feature tries to understand your location based on imagery around you such as buildings, landmarks and signs. Pointing at objects such as trees and bushes won’t work as well, mainly due to fact of changing sizes and colors during seasons.

Potential Issues for Concern

It’s widely known that people already cannot handle walking with technology in their hands. Every once in a while we hear stories of pedestrians being hit by cars because they were looking down at phones; just the other week someone fell into a manhole while glued to a phone!

So now we are going to throw augmented reality into pedestrians’ hands?! Well Google thinks they already have a few proactive solutions to prevent accidents. An alert will pop up on your phone after a few moments, telling the user to put their phone down while walking. This is crucial, as you are always sharing the sidewalk with fellow pedestrians and the occasional

bicyclist and folks on scooters. Not to worry, while a user’s phone is down, the app will revert back to the ‘standard’ maps view. The company decided to go with arrows instead of the blue dots and lines used in the standard view due to the fact users will try stand on the lines exactly while heading to their destination.

One question in which I could not find an answer to: How does Google ensure users are not using this version while driving? Obviously the app can pick up when a user is traveling 70 miles per hour in walking mode but in a city when drivers are crawling block to block, the app could be confused and be led to believe the user is traveling on foot.   The version is still in its early stages and like every new product or service, will have its kinks to work out. The arrow animations and imagery can be construed at some points depending on the angle of which the user’s phone is held at.

Next Steps

This is a huge step for Google to take in the augmented reality world. The AR feature is currently only open to a select handful of local guides to provide the company with feedback and in turn, further improvements. Google is committed to ensuring the feature will not be released to the general population until they are satisfied it is ready. I think we can all appreciate the fact that Google wants the first release to be its best possible, and not one that will cause a firestorm with a public apology tour.

How can Google make more money through its AR navigation? It can work with businesses to place advertisements in its AR view. For instance, picture yourself in AR mode and you pass a Starbucks. The actual Starbucks logo can pop up on your screen and could promote its coffee or even a coupon to use within ‘x’ amount of minutes. This example can be used across any business or industry, bringing millions of dollars in revenue to Google. It is interesting to note the AR glasses trend has been extremely quiet over the past few years. Many companies are still working on or selling AR glasses. I agree with the end of the Verge article above that Google will end up adding this new feature into a set of AR glasses.

I know the AR capability is for walking only, but this new feature could bring users back that are committed to using Waze, Apple maps, and other navigation apps while driving.

What do you think? Would you take advantage of this AR capability once it’s available?


  1. I’ve been waiting for this reality for a long, long time. I hope its real this time, because I think it’s the first real “killer app” for AR.

  2. I saw that this feature was being brought into play and was immediately excited to use it once it comes out to the general public. I have had the problem numerous times of going the wrong way or not being able to tell exactly where I need to be going because the lines seem ambiguous at times. This may be because I am somewhat directionally challenged, but there have been times friends and I have all fixated over the iPhone screen arguing which way it actually wants us to go. I hadn’t looked too far into this topic apart from knowing that it was happening and think the message telling users to put their phone down is a great addition. I think people who know where they’re going and are trying to quickly navigate the streets, ex: angry New Yorkers, could become frustrated with a sea of pedestrians holding their phones in the air and moving at a snails pace. I know I get irritated when people dillydally on busy sidewalks but will still definitely be giving this app a go!

  3. This would not only save me the headache of walking in the wrong direction, but also the utter embarrassment of having to stop, turn around, and go back the way I came from! I can’t even count the number of times this has happened to me when I studied abroad in Europe. I think you brought up a very valid concern, however, and I’m glad Google was able to think ahead and prepare for potential issues, implementing the alert into the new feature ahead of time. I guess we just have to hope that people won’t be foolish enough to use this while driving!

  4. shannonbenoit5 · ·

    I am so excited for this feature, I think it’s a brilliant idea! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that mini moment of panic when I try to start the navigation and I have absolutely no idea which direction I’m supposed to go to start, and almost always end up picking the wrong way to start walking. Definitely valid potential concerns though, even on BC’s campus I get annoyed with people all the time that are walking with their heads buried in their phones and not paying attention to where they’re walking, and this could make it so much worse, so I’m glad they’re taking precautions against that. Pretty brilliant to monetize it with ads and expiring coupons, I think that could be extremely successful for them, but I hope they control it so the experience doesn’t become inundated with ads.

  5. This is a feature that I am definitely interested in trying out when it is released to the general public. Just like everyone else, I’ve found myself staring at my phone and not even knowing where to begin or walking in one direction only to realize my ETA is getting longer rather than short and coming to terms with the fact that I’m going either the wrong way or the long way to get to my final destination. I think this feature will be a great way for people to get their bearings when heading out for their destination and along the way and will help to reduce the number of confused people wandering around wondering where exactly their phone is sending them. I think you brought up a really interesting point when talking about the next steps that Google could take in order to make money through the AR navigation. The concept of store logos popping up on your screen as your passing by could be a really cool feature and a way to make the navigation even more interactive.

  6. kgcorrigan · ·

    I am very excited to try this out when it becomes available! This post gave great insight into the new feature, and I appreciate that you looked at both pros and cons. I can definitely see myself using this in the “I’m getting off the subway, where do I go first?” moments, especially when traveling, but also in some parts of Boston where I still can’t seem to find my way without the help of a map! It’s also great to hear that Google is already thinking of proactive ways to make people pay attention to their surroundings, since being glued to a phone is already a common problem in busy areas. Being able to incorporate ads into the map itself seems like a promising way to earn revenue, but as a user I hope they don’t go overboard with it.

  7. cgriffith418 · ·

    I agree this is life-changeingly useful when you are the one that needs it (I am definitely the person that can never orient myself against the 2D map), but I’m worried it will be beyond annoying to be surrounded by other people using it when you are not. As a New Yorker, there is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck in a throng of tourists face-down in their phones when I am trying to get from A to B. This might sound stupid, but I sometimes think people should be given tickets for how dangerously unconscientious they are when walking around busy cities like New York…I have definitely talked about wishing something like this existed, but now that it really does, I think I’m reconsidering! I’m not sure it’s worth it…

  8. I think people should first and foremost stop using their phones when crossing the street! This technology would be life changing because I have been in the situation you mentioned at the beginning of this post. In a new city, I’m often in a rush and trying to figure out exactly where to go with little time to do it. I have stopped using Google maps for navigation for years now converting to Waze because it is more reliable and accurate. For me, Google failed in user interface and the ability for users to add more input, such as things like roadblocks or cops on the road. Since I haven’t used it in a while, I’m not sure if that’s now a feature. I believe in the Pokemon Go app, even while going at low speeds, the app was able to detect that the user was in a vehicle, thus not allowing for the “egg” in the game to hatch or count for steps taken. Whatever that technology is should be similar to what Google already uses today given most of the map technology was based off Google. If this AR takes off, I can definitely see Google making money off advertisements, much like how Waze suggests restaurants along the way to your destination from time to time.

  9. Phone AR is just the first step! Now imagine that you’re wearing glasses with a heads-up display built directly into the lens and all of a sudden this technology doesn’t have the same safety limitations that holding a phone would. Augmented reality has so much potential to increase safety and productivity in a totally unobtrusive way. Yes, there’s a privacy concern with having a camera attached to your face, but I don’t think it’s any more than walking around with a camera in your hand. Do you have any concerns with AR and privacy?

  10. Wow, this is an exciting and everyday application of AR. I feel like AR is often used only in specific settings and it might just be me, a college student who spends most of her time on campus. It is a really complicated and fascinating technology, but I almost never use it in my daily life. The only time I have really been exposed is in certain filters. I also wonder if as more people use this function, Google can get updated images of different locations. I know Google maps street view was originally created by stitching together multiple panorama images. They were captured by people on foot, boat, snowmobile, and underwater devices. With a large population using this guide, they could a real time view of many locations and their system could evolve as the environment changes.

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