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Google injects AI into Maps in major update

Screenshots showing off new features for Google Maps.

Google introduced a major update for Maps on Thursday, adding a bunch of new features that make the app even more powerful.

The company has been working hard to bring AI smarts to its suite of tools in recent months, and so it’s no surprise to see Google Maps getting some attention in this area.

The new Immersive View for Routes feature, for example, uses AI to bring detailed previews of planned journeys.

“Say you want to bike along the water to the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco,” Google’s Chris Phillips said in a blog post outlining the new features. “Just request cycling directions, then tap the Immersive View preview to see your route in a stunning, multidimensional view from start to finish.”

Phillips continues: “You can prepare for each turn as if you were there, with detailed, visual turn-by-turn directions, and use the time slider to plan when to head out based on helpful information, like simulated traffic and weather conditions. That way, you can easily avoid riding during rainy weather or heavy traffic.”

Google CEO Sunar Pichai also highlighted the new feature in a post on social media on Thursday:

AI is making it easier to explore and navigate with @googlemaps. Immersive View for routes is coming to 15 cities and lets you preview each step of a walking, driving or biking route in 3D, and Lens in Maps is expanding to 50+ new cities.

— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) October 26, 2023

Immersive View for Routes starts rolling out this week for Amsterdam, Barcelona (Spain), Dublin, Florence (Italy), Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, San Francisco, San Jose (California), Seattle, Tokyo, and Venice (Italy), with more cities being added over time.

Google has also launched Lens in Maps, a more advanced version of the existing Search with Live View feature. Lens in Maps uses AI and augmented reality to help you orient yourself when you arrive at a new destination. You can do this simply by selecting the Lens icon in the search bar and raising your handset to find information about amenities such as ATMs, transit stations, restaurants, coffee shops, and stores.

The app is also getting more detailed navigation maps for an even smoother user experience. Electric-vehicle drivers will see more charging station information, “including whether a charger is compatible with their vehicle and whether the available chargers are fast, medium, or slow to help you find the charging station that best meets your needs,” Phillips said.

Finally, the Maps search function is getting a boost. Phillips explains: “Now, when you search in Maps for specific things like the best place to find ‘animal latte art’ or ‘pumpkin patch with my dog,’ you’ll get photo-first results of what you’re looking for. These results are based on the analysis of billions of photos shared by the Google Maps community — all done with AI and advanced image recognition models. With this visual list of places, you can discover new spots that match exactly what you’re looking for. Just scroll through the results, tap on a photo to learn more, and navigate right there.” Users in France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. can try the new Google Maps search feature starting this week.

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