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Google Maps tests AR feature that makes navigation more exact

You get in your car or head out the door on foot, turn to your GPS for directions, and it tells you, “Head north toward Main Street” and you’re dumbfounded because you have no idea which way is north (because you’re from out of town or directionally challenged like me). Or it says, “Turn left,” and you wonder, “How does it know which direction I’m facing?” as you spin on your heels, trying to figure out which left it means.

We recently told you how Google Maps is helping you avoid speed traps. Well, soon it will be even better at giving directions. Google has been talking for more than a year about an augmented reality feature, also known as VPS, that will improve its Maps app by making your location even more accurate, especially when you’re on foot.

A few local guides got to test the technology and give us a preview. Google’s VPS — visual positioning systems — is expected to replace its global positioning systems (GPS) and make navigation more accurate and easier to use. Here’s a look at what reported.

How VPS works on your smartphone

Google Maps currently uses GPS technology, cell towers and Wi-Fi networks to figure out your location, which has been great for getting in the vicinity of where you are and helping you navigate where you want to go. But the limitation with Maps and similar map apps is, especially when you are on foot, it doesn’t know what direct you’re facing.

VPS accesses your smartphone’s camera and superimposes your location over a live view of the world. Its technology scans for local landmarks so it knows exactly where you are, and gives you step-by-step directions. Google’s VPS feature will remind you: “For your safety, keep your phone down while you walk,” which is great for saving bandwidth, battery and bruises.

Because, you know, humans are kinda dumb when it comes to smartphones.

Other apps that use visual positioning systems

The WSJ article explains that Google’s VPS technology is similar to the technology used by driverless cars. In addition to smartphone map overlays, we expect to see this technology used for windshield overlays to help you find nearby gas stations, restaurants and other landmarks.

We can’t help but wonder what’s taken Google and other map-making apps so long to get into the VPS game. Several apps use the smartphone camera to help you identify celestial bodies, finding restaurants and adding fun features to your photos.

VPS is nothing new. Years ago, Yelp rolled out Monocle, which is an in-app feature that uses your smartphone’s camera to help you find nearby restaurants, bars, and friends. Here’s a snapshot of what that looks like from the WestStar lobby here in Phoenix.

When is Google Maps VPS coming?

That’s the big question. When will this technology be available to the general public? Google first announced it back in 2017, and according to reports from WSJ and AndroidAuthority, only Local Guides are getting to use the VPS technology. Local Guides are Google Maps super-users.

We’ll watch this story and keep the Komando audience up to date. You’ll know when we know.

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