At Google's I/O developer conference keynote on Tuesday, ARCore may have been absent, but Google did preview a potentially trailblazing augmented reality feature for Google Maps.
Google's vice president of product for AR, VR, and vision-based products, Aparna Chennapragada, previewed a new augmented reality walking navigation feature for Google Maps that overlays real-time turn-by-turn directions and points of interest on the smartphone's camera view.
In addition, the Google Maps development team is planning to include an animated AR avatar to help guide users to their destinations.
The feature leverages the Visual Positioning System (VPS), which was unveiled by Google at last year's conference, to estimate positioning and orientation based on observed landmarks and with greater precision than GPS alone.
The first generation of VPS was built on the now-defunct Tango platform and pitched as a solution for indoor navigation. Now, Google is porting the technology to Maps, which can compare visual data to Street View maps collected by Google's seemingly tireless mapping fleet.
"One way to think about the key insight here is, just like you and I, when we are in an unfamiliar place, you are looking for visual landmarks," said Chennapragada. "You're looking for the storefronts, building facades, etc. And it's the same idea. VPS uses the physical features in the environment to do the same, so that way we help you figure out exactly where you are and get you exactly where you need to go."
Chennapragada did not reveal a timeline for when the new feature will make its way, but Google is already behind in getting an AR navigation app onto the market. Blippar offers its own AR navigation app, using its own version of VPS. Meanwhile, Mapbox offers its own SDK for location-based AR; the platform powers the Hotstepper app, which pre-dates Google with a virtual navigation guide.
Nonetheless, Google Maps has the luxury of time to get the feature out to users, both due to its position as the dominant navigation app and the presumption that a service like this will be truly useful on smartglasses rather than smartphones.
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