Google has announced a number of updates on its Google Maps service which could potentially help Africans live healthier, make decisions faster while enjoying more accessibility and seamlessness in an eco-friendly environment.

The new features could play a critical role in the control of the hazards of climate change, as it will be advising motorists on the best eco-friendly routes that can reduce greenhouse emissions.

The app also comes with weather prediction and air quality layers, which tell you whether the place you are heading to will rain or remain sunny, and how clean or dirty the Oxygen you will be breathing along the way is.

“With the new weather layer, you can quickly see current and forecasted temperature and weather conditions in an area, so you’ll never get caught in the rain without an umbrella,” Dane Glasgow, vice president of product at Google Maps said.

The new air quality layer information could prove helpful for users who have allergies, are in a smoggy or fire-prone area.

Google said data from partners like The Weather Company, AirNow.gov and the Central Pollution Board will power the layers that start rolling out on Android and iOS smartphones.

The updates, which will first be introduced in Nairobi in the coming months before extending them to the rural areas also include the use of Live View Augmented Reality which will allow users in malls and airports to find directions.

“Live View is powered by global localisation technology, which uses Artificial Intelligence to scan tens of billions of Street View images to understand your orientation,” said Mr Glasgow.

Thanks to new advancements that have helped populations understand the precise altitude and placement of objects inside a building, Google will now bring Live View to some of the trickiest-to-navigate places indoors: airports, transit stations and malls.

That means if you’re catching a plane or train, Live View will help you find the nearest elevator and escalators, your gate, baggage claim, check-in counters, ticket office, washrooms and ATMs.

“Arrows and accompanying directions will point you the right way. And if you need to pick something up from the mall, use Live View to see what floor a store is on and how to get there so you can get in and out in a snap.”

Google Maps, an essential service that has revolutionised transport and logistics in Africa, birthing a new sub-sector of food delivery through services like Uber Eats, Sendy and Glovo, has also come with real-time recommendations on routes that consume lower fuel.

“We are building a new routing model that optimises for lower fuel consumption based on factors like road incline and traffic congestion,” said Anita Yuen, director of product at Google Maps.

She added that Google Maps will advise motorists on the routes with the lowest carbon footprint when it has automatically estimated your time of arrival using the fastest route.

In cases where the eco-friendly route could significantly delay your estimated time of arrival, Google said it will let motorists compare the relative Carbon (IV) Oxide impact between routes so they can choose.

With delivery and curbside pickup recording significantly high numbers during the pandemic as governments advise against making physical contacts, Google Maps promises to give users useful shopping information to stores, business profiles on Maps and Search, like delivery providers, pickup and delivery windows, fees, and order minimums.

The tech giant will also be introducing a new directions interface that makes it easier to choose more sustainable options when on the go.

Users can expect a comprehensive view of all routes and transportation modes available to their destination, allowing them to compare how long it’ll take to get there by car, transit or bike without toggling between tabs.

“Using advanced machine learning models, Maps will automatically prioritise your preferred modes – and even boost modes that are popular in your city,” Mr Glasgow said.

Google’s Maps is now offering stiff competition to Apple’s Maps which have installed on every iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

While Apple Maps has seen significant improvements in terms of straight up navigation, improved visuals, real-time transit information, and in-door maps, Google Maps has the benefit of being integrated with the company’s Big Data from other services including the ability to do things like order food from restaurants directly in the app.

Google is also developing the next generation of its own Augmented Reality glasses, after Google Glass, but competition is also coming from Facebook, which is working on similar on-screen prompts as part of its Project Aria AR glasses experiment.

Google Maps Street View, launched back in 2007 has received public outcry over the years, over concerns that the service was a threat to privacy due to the pictures gathered, but Google said that all data from its users will be anonymised and protected against third parties.

“We are working closely with governments to ensure compliance with existing data protection laws.”


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