Google Maps turns 15, offers AI-powered way to beat traffic pain

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2020 07:00 PM | Updated as of Feb 06 2020 09:24 PM

MANILA -- A swarm of near-stationary smartphones on a main road tells Google's artificial intelligence (AI) that there's a gridlock. Maps then offers a homebound commuter to take a different route or wait out the traffic jam at a new bar that he or she might like.

On its 15th birthday, Google Maps is evolving into more than just a digital compass to get from point A to point B. In an update that will roll out starting 7 p.m. Thursday, app users will start to receive new features, including a new commute tab and suggested locations, officials said.

The commute tab will include routes for two-wheeled vehicles such as motorbikes, which is an emerging transportation segment in Southeast Asia where motor taxi-hailing apps like Angkas, Joyride and Go-Jek have become an alternative for commuters.

The new interface of Google Maps, which will gradually roll out to users worldwide, are shown in these screen captures provided by Google Philippines

The new interface of Google Maps, which will gradually roll out to users worldwide, are shown in these screen captures provided by Google Philippines

The new interface of Google Maps, which will gradually roll out to users worldwide, are shown in these screen captures provided by Google Philippines

The new interface of Google Maps, which will gradually roll out to users worldwide, are shown in these screen captures provided by Google Philippines

The new interface of Google Maps, which will gradually roll out to users worldwide, are shown in these screen captures provided by Google Philippines

Google Maps wants to make it easier for users to pick their mode of transportation based on speed and cost, said Google Maps Senior Vice-President Jen Fitzpatrick.

"People can more easily make the decision: What route is best for me? What mode of transportation is best for me? What are the tradeoffs? Which is cheaper, much faster?" she told Asian journalists in a conference call from Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

"Should I leave 30 minutes later? We have that flexibility because traffic is gonna get better. We hope people can make their trips better with Google Maps," she said.

Google's machine learning gathers data from users to help determine in real time which areas are choked in traffic, officials said. Google Maps harnesses data from users in 220 countries who drive a combined 1 billion kilometers per day or the equivalent of 25,000 trips around the world.

Including routes for motorbikes and scooters recognizes evolving transportation trends, said Google Maps Vice-President for Product Dan Glasgow. Two-wheelers move faster and can split lanes unlike four-wheeled vehicles, he said.

"Phones are sitting still. That's a big sign that there's a traffic jam or traffic is really slow or if there's a road closure," said Fitzpatrick, who has been with Google Maps since its inception. "The algorithm is not country-specific. It's meant to reflect all different forms of traffic patterns."

NEW LOOK MAPS

The redesigned Google Maps will roll out worldwide with a refreshed icon—a location pin—to reflect what Google said was consumers searching for experiences and places.

The new features will be rolled out in phases depending on the country, Google said.

The bottom navigation tab on the Google Maps interface was expanded to 5 from just 3. Explore will gather information and ratings on some 200 million places around the world, Google said.

The Commute tab will have real-time traffic updates and travel times. The Saved tab will collect users' favorite locations. Google said users saved some 6.5 billion places on the app.

The Contribute tab will be a place for users to share reviews, photos and information on missing places on the app. Updates will suggest places that a user might like based on navigation history.

It will also be easier for users to go "incognito" while using Google Maps, stopping the platform from sharing their data, officials said. It will be available by swiping from the left side of the screen.

Google is working to integrate its augmented reality tech to Maps, Fitzpatrick said. A feature being tested deploys a bot to call establishments to check common but simple questions such as will a restaurant be open on a holiday, she said.

In the last year alone, through machine learning, Google Maps added more buildings than in the previous 10 years, she said.

"The real world is constantly changing and that pushes us to think about how the Maps experience needs to evolve," she said.