(TIML TEC)Google Maps wants to make it easier for people find their way in busy urban spaces, and it thinks large cartoon arrows can help.
On Monday, Google Maps began letting some users test a new augmented-reality feature in its mobile app that shows graphics — such as highlighted arrows and street names floating in midair — over a live view from their camera on their smartphone screens. It is meant to help them navigate city streets.
Google’s Rachel Inman, who works on user-experience for the new feature, said the company hopes to make it simpler to go between the two-dimensional map on your phone and the three-dimensional world around you.
“We’ve all had the experience of coming up from the subway and walking a half block or a full block in the wrong direction and being really annoyed when we have to turn around and walk the way we were supposed to go in the first place,” she told CNN Business at a real-life demonstration of the feature in San Francisco on Monday.
Google said that for now, the feature is only being offered to a small group of people who frequently use and contribute to Google Maps. The company isn’t saying when it will be generally available.
“We are still learning a lot; this is still very early,” cautioned Marek Gorecki, an engineering manager for Google Maps.
One reason the technology takes time to perfect is that it is difficult, even now, to reliably find where you are and what direction you’re facing on a smartphone map.
Typically, a smartphone uses its built-in GPS and compass to determine your location and what direction you are facing in a mapping app. In crowded cities, however, this can get tricky. GPS relies on having a line of sight to pass along radio signals from far-off satellites to your phone, so tall buildings can make it hard to figure out exactly where you are. The compass, too, can be thrown off in urban places because of the abundance of magnetic objects such as metal in buildings, cars, buses and city infrastructure — such as light poles.