Google pushed a new kind of augmented reality walking navigation to the mainstream last year, and now startup Phiar is hoping users will use its AR app in the same way for driving navigation.
The company is currently inviting the public to sign up for its private beta launch, which is scheduled for the first week of February. About 25 to 50 participants will be selected in the first wave of the program.
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Based on the beta registration survey, it appears that an iPhone 7 or newer will be required for participation. A Phiar representative has confirmed that this is true.
In the meantime, a demo video, with footage which Phiar claims was recorded live via iPhone X series devices, gives us a preview of what to expect. The app displays familiar wayfinding icons on the app's view of the road ahead, including guidance for turns, lanes, and destination. Based on the footage, the app apparently works in night and rain conditions as well. The experience also includes a few heads up display features, such as map overlay, battery life, and the estimated time of arrival.
The video also showcases the artificial intelligence technology behind the app. Phiar's technology uses computer vision and machine learning to recognize lanes, cars, pedestrians, and other objects in the smartphone camera view. This environmental understanding enables the app to display route guidance within the camera view.
Currently, automakers are looking to add AR navigation features to upcoming models, with companies like WayRay and Nvidia competing to supply them with AR navigation technology. Phiar is set on participating as well, with the app demo video's ending footage switching to conceptual footage of how the company hopes to have its technology look in future versions of the app via windshield displays.
To date, the availability of AR navigation via mobile devices has been limited to walking navigation, which has steadily made its way to pedestrians. Google initially launched its AR walking navigation for Google Maps in a limited preview to participants in its Local Guides crowdsourcing program nearly a year ago, then renamed it Google Maps Live View and extended that preview to all Pixel users. However, since then, the feature appears to have been revoked for Pixel 4 users.
Moreover, Mapbox, Dent Reality, Visualix, and Blippar are among the companies offering SDKs for building walking or indoor AR navigation experiences. Although Blippar's AR City app is no longer available, Hotstepper (built via Mapbox) offers a walking AR navigation that is more entertainment experience versus utility app.
While we haven't had an opportunity to test out the technology first-hand, Phiar appears to be in the process of delivering an easier way to bring AR navigation to automobiles. However, it remains to be seen whether the tech, displayed on devices that have given rise to the term distracted driving, are a convenience or a hinderance.
Personally, I rely on Google Maps or Waze, particularly for live traffic information on my daily commutes, but its assistance is mainly useful at a glance. And I've found the Live View feature to be very useful in walking around unfamiliar cities. However, one of the hallmarks of the feature is to turn off the AR view as users are in motion. Will the constant live feed from Phiar improve upon the navigation experience? I'm eager to find out.