Augmented Reality–an Everyday Feature

When was the last time you looked at a physical map? In my case, never. At least in the sense of using it for its intended purpose. 1d mapping has been replaced by 2d map applications. And it has successfully changed the way anyone gets around.

When I drive anywhere unfamiliar–or even familiar–I enter the address into Apple’s Maps with complete, undoubted trust. When I explore a city, I check Maps to be sure that I’m in the neighborhood of my destination (which is usually a Thai restaurant I’ve yet to try). Although, in both cases, Maps ultimately leads me to the correct location, the trouble occurs at the beginning. Which way do I start walking first? Up this street or down this street? Should I be on the other side of the road? That experience, as I am sure we can all relate to, is what could be considered as the ‘blue dot problem.’ Google is working on a solution.

In May of 2018, at the annual Google I/O event, executives and developers announced its series of new features, one of which is a relaunch of Google Maps. This update is working on a  seamless, augmented reality-infused version of Google Maps. Watch this short video below to hear from a Google executive herself on what this could look like.

Visual Representation of what an AR-based Google Maps could look like soon enough.

As shown, navigation would no longer be limited to simple directions supplemented by a map of white and green shapes. Instead, by using VPS (Visual Mapping System) over traditional GPS, Google Maps could offer a real time, interactive walking navigation, moving the technology again, this time from 2d to 3d.

Now, over 8 months later, development is taking shape through testing and experimentation by few Local Guides, who are Google’s most dedicated and supportive users. David Pierce from The Wall Street Journal is one who has been personally testing this new version, and he documents his experience in his most recent article. He writes, “Down the street a phone booth-size red pin marked my destination. It was as if Maps had drawn my directions onto the real world, though nobody else could see them.” Rachel Inman, Google executive and project manager for this AR-focused development, describes this feature as for the moments like, ‘I’m getting off the subway, where do I go first?’

Google’s plans are clearly impressive, unique, and will ultimately alter the way users interact with maps overall. However, what is most impressive and surprisingly subtle is Google’s ability to be the first to transition AR from a cool new gaming tool to a useful, accessible, and daily feature for the normal person. They’ve made AR for the woman rushing to make her meeting. For the man looking for a place to grab a quick lunch. For the traveler looking for a decently rated, nearby hostel.

My mini-experiment, highlighting the incredible amount of results related to the AR global phenomena Pokémon GO

This is a stark contrast from the range of users and interest in AR prior to Google’s announcement. The best example of AR’s former success is Pokémon GO. This global app launched in 2016 with record-breaking statistics, including the most downloaded app within first month of release and fastest app to earn over 100 million dollars (Forbes). As a mini-experiment, I searched Pokémon GO on Google. Within .57, there were approximately 443 million results, 57 million of which were videos alone, showing just how dominant and widespread this game has become despite its decline over the past couple of years. Biologist and author JV Chamary of Forbes Magazine writes, “Pokémon GO is the world’s most important game.” If that does not speak to the nature of AR, I don’t know what will.

The implications of AR have often been seen as negative: more screen time, limiting social communication, and privacy concerns. Pokémon GO trumped those concerns with promoting physical activity, encouraging exploration, and prompting cognitive training.

NBC news report describes the overwhelming popularity and consequences Pokémon GO has had in Los Angeles, July of 2016.

Although used in an entirely new way, the AR behind Google’s new feature has similarly raised concerns as well. Will more traffic accidents occur due to people’s attention being focused on seeing through their phone instead of examining the surroundings themselves? Will this only be available for outside ‘street view,’ or is someone’s apartment complex susceptible to this technology? Is this even necessary or particularly useful without the supplement of AR glasses? Will using this feature drain my battery? How will Google Maps navigate the user through known less-secure neighborhoods?

While I am sure Google is working towards answering these questions via R&D, I can guess that these are also questions that will be more thoroughly addressed through the user data and reviews. That being said, I am excited to see what this new world will look like–literally. The possibility of AR entering daily life at first seems intimidating and a little unwelcome, especially in a culture that is now promoting ‘being present’ above all else. However, if done right, Google could forever change the way a person lives. AR has the power to positively transform how we see the world, reimagining discovery, exploration, and learning all at the same time.


11 thoughts on “Augmented Reality–an Everyday Feature

  1. I know we’ve talked about VR recently in class, and while it’s always been interesting, I basically thought of it as something that might enhance video games, a cool gadget for people who can afford it, but not something that would affect most people’s lives in the near future. After reading about this, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re all using products with AR in the near future. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really exciting to see how AR can be used in a more everyday situation than Pokemon Go. I’m sure that there will be more AR innovations that follow this one, but I wonder will AR truly make us more engaged with the world around us or further distance us? It appears that it can engage people more, but the cell phone was also invented to make communication between humans easier and we’ve seen how that has caused isolation as well.

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  3. It’s cool that AR might start being integrated into our lives in a way that will help people navigate their surroundings. I can relate to what you were saying about pulling up Google maps but not knowing which way your suppose to walk, or what side of the street you should be on. It’s extremely frustrating, especially when I’m in a hurry. If Google is able to launch this feature to maps it would be incredibly helpful to the millions of people who use Google maps every day.

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  4. I think that this is such a cool idea. I see now that luxury cars are now projecting directions on the road in front of the driver and now seeing that you are able to have it on a mobile phone makes this even easier. I am very bad with directions so seeing an arrow in front of me will be much more helpful than seeing it on my screen and usually walking the wrong way. Great post!

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  5. The book I read for class was called “The Fourth Transformation” and it was about VR/AR and their eventual full integration into society. I have a lot of trouble with directions so I think this feature would be largely helpful to those who get lost easily, but only if google’s technology and maps can orient themselves correctly, especially if being displayed on car windshields/dashboards. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This post reminds of the panel I attended with Sophie Miller. She talked a lot about how she believes that the fully working AR technology will change the world. Although it’s still in the process because, as Sophie said, Google doesn’t want to put out anything that hasn’t been proved to be fully working, this technology is still very exciting having seen a few sneak peaks here and there with apps like Pokemon Go. Also, the concerns you raised are very valid, very thought-provoking.


    • Yes Sophie Miller is wonderful! I’m so excited that you will have the chance to talk with her on the trip. I had the chance to talk with her a while ago about some of the partnerships that Google has made to use share their AR technology. She mentioned that they’ve even done some cool things with Lowes to help people with home improvement products. I’m excited to see how they continue to integrate the technology to improve experiences.


  7. Wow this AR application with Google Map looks awesome and will definitely benefit tons of people. I agree with one of the drawbacks that with people glued to their phones, traffic control and safety may be a concern. I remember following the blue dot on Map while attempting to cross a street; not paying attention to my surroundings, I was nearly killed by the oncoming traffic.
    I have heard of a research project about using cameras to help visually impaired people better locate their surroundings and read street signs, store signs, etc. This might also be a good application of AR technology in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love your section on where many see potential negatives of this AR integration. Being one of them, I admit it is important to recognize what is more likely to become addictive, i.e. gaming as seen from Pokemon Go. However, AR integration could significantly enhance utility apps such as Maps; where safety features could be built in very easily.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When I usually try to find restaurant on Google Map, the number of restaurants showing on screen really depend on how big the scale of map it is. I found there is probably a limitation on the algorithm regarding how many locations will be shown on map. I wonder how will Google show the locations if there is too many shops and restaurants on the street. It might be the place that AI could come in to personalize user’s preference or assess people’s needs.


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