Google’s ‘immersive view’ could revolutionize maps

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At last week’s Google I/O conference, the propeller heads at Alphabet showed off their latest creations. In addition to the latest hardware from the company, it also unveiled some rather interesting software. It’s called Immersive View, and it could be a game-changer when it releases earlier this year.

Instead of just looking at a flat 2D version of the world around you, Immersive view essentially turns the world into a video game. Google says that with Immersive View, “you’ll be able to experience what a neighborhood, landmark, restaurant, or popular spot looks like — and even feel like you’re there before you even set foot there.” The video that Google posted to demonstrate this is impressive. It begins by showing the camera flying through the air as if it were a drone of your destination. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the place just to orient yourself. Speaking of birds, they can be seen scattering across the sky to give it a more realistic feel. Obviously, this is one of the more fanciful aspects of Google’s AI interpreting an area’s “status”, but it definitely adds to the immersion.

You can move a time slider while viewing a location to see what it looks like at different times of the day. The cursor starts at “now” and you can move it into the future. It depicts realistic weather effects, giving you a glimpse of what it would look like later today. This might show you a forecast for rain or heavy traffic. Being able to see current traffic at a location with real cars on the road instead of just a red line in 2D mode is pretty nifty. The big change here is that nothing is static anymore, and areas look like a live view. It feels more immersive.

Where it gets really crazy is when you go down to street level, you can actually walk into buildings. Google already has a version of this for Maps, but before, but it was much more limited. It’s been years that photographers have been paid to take 3D panoramic photos in cooperating companies, but this is stepping up a notch. The video shows the camera passing the reception of a restaurant and exploring it to the dining room. It’s unclear which buildings will allow an interior view, but it looks intriguing.

Google says the best feature of Immersive View is that it will work on “pretty much any device.” Google does not yet offer the hardware requirements. However, it probably won’t require the latest Pixel or Samsung phone. This is surprising considering the amount of 3D rendering involved. The immersive view is a shot across Apple’s arc, as the iPhone maker released the 3D view with iOS 15 for its own maps app in September 2021. Google will release an immersive view for Los Angeles, London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo later this year.

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