Google Maps Announcements at I/O

Google unveiled its future plans for Google Maps at its I/O conference yesterday. They include an augmented reality mode that combines Google’s Street View and map data with the view through your phone’s camera and “assistive and personal” features that add some artificial intelligence to recommendations and reviews. The social and recommendation features are coming this summer; no word on when or if we’ll see the AR mode. AppleInsider, Google Blog, Engadget, The Verge.

In other Google Maps news from late March: Google announced that 39 new languages were being added to Google Maps; and restaurant wait times came to the iOS version of Google Maps.

The Rumsey Collection’s Augmented Reality Globe App

The David Rumsey Map Collection has a number of virtual globes, but its AR Globe app may be the most unusual way to view them. Released last December for the iPhone and iPad, it uses augmented reality to superimpose one of seven celestial or terrestrial globes from the 15th through 19th centuries. The globes can be manipulated—spun, zoomed in and out—or observed from the inside (which is a good thing with celestial globes).

To be honest I’m not sold on using augmented reality to view virtual globes. It’s one thing to use AR to superimpose IKEA furniture in your living room: that makes sense, because it helps you visualize where the furniture would go and what it would look like. But it’s hard to see the utility of plunking a virtual globe in your living room: what’s the point of adding your surroundings as a backdrop? Case in point:

It’s neat but not particularly useful, is what I’m saying.

The Future of Mapping: Semantic Maps

The future of mapping, according to John Hanke and Brian McClendon, who basically created Google Earth, is something called a semantic map. Now, semantic mapping has very different meanings in literacy, statistics and data science; in this case a semantic map refers to “a map that continues to learn about the physical world and refine its predictions of what objects are and how they will act through huge amounts of data. Without semantic maps, self-driving cars won’t ever be able to intelligently move through the world–at least not without crashing into something—a development that will arrive when self-driving cars do.” Also has augmented reality implications. The Co.Design article explains. [Dave Smith]

Augmented Reality Comes to OS Maps

The Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps mobile app now has a new augmented reality mode. “Using the phone or tablet’s camera view, hills, mountains, coastal features, lakes, settlements, transport hubs and woodland in the vicinity are identified and labelled. If a label is pressed and there is a data connection, a page of useful information about that location is displayed, including nearby walks, photos and places to stay.” AR is very neat but battery-intensive; nevertheless this strikes me as a very useful application of the technology. [iOS App Store, Google Play]