February 11 2019

It’s the Real World in Augmented Reality – With Google Maps Layered on Top

Augmented reality navigation apps use smartphone cameras to get a detailed sense of where you are and put signs and…

Augmented reality navigation apps use smartphone cameras to get a detailed sense of where you are and put signs and arrows on top of the real world. My phone knows where I am at all times: There’s just no hiding from that blue dot in Google Maps.

Well, except for when the blue dot thinks I am across the street, or inside the restaurant two doors down. More than once, blue-dot issues have caused me to walk a considerable way in the wrong direction.

In fairness, even when GPS is screwy, it’s typically close enough for driving. But when a drone’s dropping a package on your stoop, close isn’t good enough. Self-driving cars can’t muddle through for a few dozen yards the way a human driver can. Honestly, even if you’re just looking for your Uber driver or Lime scooter, locations need to be more exact.

By making use of smartphone cameras, apps can get a more-detailed sense of where you are and where you need to go. The app knows which direction you are pointing in, even what you’re looking at. And because it’s all seen through a camera view on your phone, the app can layer directions on top of the real world, turning navigation into an augmented-reality experience.

When you first raise your phone and start the Google Maps AR mode, the app scans your surroundings – all those dots indicate points it’s investigating – to figure out exactly where you are.

When I opened the Google Maps preview app and searched for coffee shops, it looked the same as before. But when I chose one, I saw a new option: “Start AR.” I tapped it and the familiar map vanished, replaced by a real-time view of the world in front of me.

The app instructed me to move my phone around and point its camera at things across the street while it tried to figure out my location. After a few seconds, the camera seemed to recognize some landmarks and realize where it was, with remarkable precision.

This really is a new way to get location. GPS tells Google Maps roughly where I am, then the app tries to match what the camera is seeing with a decade’s worth of Street View data. Those roving cars with spinning cameras have been capturing images the world over, recording where the car is and what the camera sees at the time. They have given Google a three-dimensional map of the world that it can search every time you open the camera. (Read More)