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Google Maps adds indoor AR directions and prioritizes eco-friendly routes

Cherlynn Low
·Reviews Editor
·5-min read

Google has been working hard to make Maps a useful tool for navigating the world and it's continuing to roll out new features. Today, the company is unveiling a set of updates that should make the app more helpful in more scenarios. For one thing, it's bringing its AR navigation tool Live View to some indoor locations like select malls, airports and transit stations. It's also prioritizing more eco-friendly directions when recommending routes, adding weather and air quality data to destinations and integrating pickup and delivery options with grocery retailers.

Indoor Live View

As a recap, Live View is an AR feature that let you see exactly where your destination is by pointing your camera at your surroundings and overlaying directions on the scene. To make that work indoors though, Google had to "develop an entirely new technology" that it's calling "global localization." Google Maps' director of product said in a press briefing that this has become "the backbone of the Live View feature we know today." 

It uses AI to scan "tens of billions of street view images and maps them up with images on your phone to identify where you are." With adjustments made in the last few years, Google adapted that to understand "the precise altitude or placement of an object in a building." That way, it doesn't give you the instructions to get to some other gate in another airport, for example. You can use this feature to look for the gate to your connecting flight (next time you're traveling by air), or find that hot new restaurant in a mall before rushing to your movie, for example. It'll also help you find the nearest elevators, escalators, ATMs, restrooms, check-in counters, ticket offices and more.

Google Maps Indoor Live View animation. An animation showing a phone panning around Zurich airport with overlaid instructions saying
Google Maps Indoor Live View animation. An animation showing a phone panning around Zurich airport with overlaid instructions saying

Indoor Live View is now live in some Westfield malls in US cities including Newark, Los Angeles, Chicago, Long Island, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle. It starts rolling out over the next few months on Android and iOS in select transit stations, malls and airports in Tokyo and Zurich. Google said support for more places and cities is coming, too.

Environmentally rich and eco-friendly guidance

As part of its commitment to help its users reduce their environmental footprint, Google is continuing to surface greener means to get around. Later this year, when you use the iOS or Android version of Maps to look up directions, it will default to the route with the lowest carbon footprint if it takes about the same time as the fastest route. If the eco-friendly option will take significantly more time, Maps will display a comparison of their CO2 impacts so you can consciously decide whether speed or the environment is more important. You can revert back to seeing the fastest route as the default by changing this in Settings. This feature is headed to the US first, and Google says a "global expansion" is on the way. 

Speaking of other countries, many places around the world have designated "low emission zones" that restrict vehicles like diesel cars which cause pollution. This June, Maps will start alerting users if they'll be navigating through one of these and offer alternative directions when necessary. It'll be available in the app in Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK, and the company says more countries are coming soon.

Google Maps New Directions Experience. An animation showing the new Google Maps directions page getting from
Google Maps New Directions Experience. An animation showing the new Google Maps directions page getting from

Google is also revamping its directions interface that will put routes for all transportation modes in one page, instead of having separate tabs for things like car, walking and public transit. This will make it easier to compare the time it will take across the different routes. Maps will also use machine learning to understand your preferred means of getting around to prioritize them, and also "boost modes that are popular in your city." Those in New York City or Singapore, for example, will likely see the subway or MRT routes higher up, while Citibike regulars will see bike routes more. 

To help users better anticipate the environment at their destination, Maps is also adding new Weather and Air Quality layers. These will show the current temperature and forecasted hourly weather conditions (pulling data from The Weather Company) so you can bundle up for your outdoor dining reservation on a windy evening, for example. Google also uses info from AirNow.gov and the Central Pollution Board to give details on a location's air quality so those who have allergies or live in smog-affected areas can adjust their plans accordingly.

Making pickup and delivery easier

The final set of updates (this time, anyway) is around grocery shopping. Google is adding info like pickup and delivery windows, fees and order minimums to stores' Business Profiles on mobile search, starting with Instacart and Albertsons Cos. in the US. Google plans to expand this to more stores and bring it to Maps, though it hasn't said when. 

Google Maps Pickup animation. An animation showing the pickup integration with Fred Meyer, with options to share your ETA and check in when you arrive.
Google Maps Pickup animation. An animation showing the pickup integration with Fred Meyer, with options to share your ETA and check in when you arrive.

The company is also launching a pilot program with US supermarket Fred Meyer in some of its Portland, Oregon stores. When you order something for pickup on Fred Meyer's app, you can add it to Maps to get alerts when it's time to head to the store for your pickup. You can also share your arrival time with the store, and your ETA will be continuously updated based on location and traffic. This way, the store can prioritize your order when you're close, and you can check in via Maps so they can bring your stuff out when you arrive.

Though this is just a limited pilot program for now, it's easy to see how Google might be able to integrate with more retailers and partners to fully bring this feature to Maps in time. As we continue to rely on curbside pickups for the foreseeable future, this could become a truly useful tool whenever it becomes more widely available.