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Google’s ‘Immersive View’ Could Revolutionize Maps

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At last week’s Google I/O conference the propeller heads from Alphabet showed off their latest creations. In addition to the company’s latest hardware, it also pulled the wraps off some rather interesting software. It’s called Immersive View, and it could be a game-changer when it’s released 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 with Immersive View, “you’ll be able to experience what a neighborhood, landmark, restaurant or popular venue is like — and even feel like you’re right there before you ever set foot inside.” The video Google released to demonstrate it is impressive. It begins by showing the camera flying around in the air as if it’s a drone shot of your destination. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the place just to get your bearings straight. Speaking of birds, they can be seen scattering throughout the sky to give it a more realistic feeling. Obviously this is one of the more fanciful aspects of Google’s AI interpretation of an area’s “status,” but it definitely adds to the immersion.

You can move a time slider when viewing a location to see what it looks like at different times of the day. The slider 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 in the day. This could show you predicted rain or heavy traffic. Being able to see the current traffic at a location with actual cars on the road instead of just a red line in 2D mode is pretty slick. The big change here is nothing is static anymore, and the areas look just like a livestream view. It does seem more immersive.

Where it gets really crazy is when you go down to street level you can actually go inside buildings. Google already has a version of this for Maps, but previously but it was much more limited. It’s been paying photographers to shoot 3D panoramic shots inside cooperating businesses for years, but this cranks it up a notch. The video shows the camera flying past a restaurant’s reception desk and exploring it all the way back to the dining area. It’s not clear which buildings will allow an inside view, but it looks intriguing.

Google says the best feature of immersive view is that it’ll work on “just about any device.” Google isn’t offering hardware requirements just yet. However, it probably won’t require the latest Pixel or Samsung phone. That’s surprising given the amount of 3D rendering involved. Immersive view is a shot across Apple’s bow, as the iPhone-maker released 3D view with iOS 15 for its own maps app in September of 2021. Google will release immersive view for Los Angeles, London, New York, San Francisco and Tokyo later this year.

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