20years ago, location navigation was difficult because of using physical maps for directions. Fast forward to today, Google Maps has transformed location search via artificial intelligence and machine learning.

From recommendations to instant traffic alerts, Google Maps is changing the navigation experiences for users. Today, most people own smartphones installed with Google Maps and this has made movement easy.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions according to Sundar Pichai, Google CEO have transformed Google Maps as more people can access locations faster¹.

Real-time information about traffic and commuter routes on smartphones has made the experience smooth.

With the help of machine learning, Google Maps is improving accuracy for unknown locations, which were not possible before. Since its founding in 2004, Google Maps has made strides via updates and re-branding coupled with mobile compatibility.

With the help of machine learning, Google Maps is improving accuracy for unknown locations, which were not possible before

The AI Journey of Google Maps

Machine learning offers a clear view of buildings where ML engineers train models to understand appearance and shapes.

Google Maps has been experiencing challenges in the past when differentiating buildings and the latest AI solutions/upgrades² have made this capability user-friendly.

Both Maps and data teams at Google collaborated on reviewing building features and using algorithms for better understanding.

What about unmarked areas in a city or town?

Google Maps has made progress here by applying machine learning to detect building numbers manually. Maps from Google have experienced this problem with users complaining about unclear directions for areas with no signs.

Users can now see names of streets and locate addresses easily as machine-learning tools make maps better³.

For example, the latest Google Maps version can accurately locate all areas in congested cities.

This was almost impossible two decades ago and with AI-based solutions, Google Maps is becoming better.

The Live View feature from Google is another addition to maps, which utilizes augmented reality⁴ to help users understand location. Some users have complained about a lack of specific directions when walking towards a location and live feature addresses this problem.

Google Maps live feature is a development from machine learning and tells users the required distance for destinations. The physical images of a city are important for the live feature to work alongside sensors.

User engagement is central to Google Map’s strategy according to CEO Sundar Pichai who believes that maps will become even better.

With an estimated 1 billion users around the world, Google Maps reinvention has begun⁵ with the application allowing users to post reviews and upload photos.

The response from the user community has been positive with Google opening content development to the public to increase functionality. The success of Google Maps will also contribute to paid clicks, a segment that Google has struggled to make profits.

Google Maps Acquisitions

Before proceeding further, let us review some acquisitions done by Google Maps

1. Waze

The acquisition of Waze¹² came as Google Maps wanted to improve the social experience of users on its maps application. Waze was the right fit because of the start up’s search experience on maps and this meant giving Google Maps a boost.

As more users access #GoogleMaps on devices such as smartphones and tablets, Google purchased Waze to improve this user experience and make location search easy.

The Crowdsource business model of Waze facilitated the acquisition by Google to help users share visited locations.

The combination of user social engagements and maps data made Waze the best partner to collaborate with Google Maps.

Traffic systems is another area that Google Maps has not done well and the acquisition of Waze provided the company with a strong search capability for users.

Overall, the mapping database features from Waze offer Google Maps an edge⁶ with tech giants such as Apple and Facebook competing in this space as well.

Apple is working on Apple Maps on its IOS application and poses competition for Google Maps as both platforms seek to increase user engagement.

The Crowdsource business model of Waze facilitated the acquisition by Google to help users share locations visited.

2. Urban Engines

The acquisition of Urban Engines¹³ by Google Maps was meant to shore up its maps business by using analytics in urban locations. Google Maps functionality depends on accurate points and with a poor location experience, the application does not work well.

Urban Engines brought a team of analytics experts on urban patterns, which made Google Maps a top player in this space. Analytics is essential for Google Maps and according to Google; this influenced the decision to buy Urban Engines.

Under this arrangement, Google uses analytics technology from Urban Engines to make maps work well and assist users to navigate locations.

The real-time use of data and analytics makes Urban Engine a great acquisition for Google Maps because of accurate information analysis. As more data is generated, insights enable Google Maps to work and the acquisition of Urban Engines achieved this goal.

Visualization from Urban Engine alongside analytics made the company an ideal choice for collaboration with Google maps. By using commuter data and analytics, Urban Engines provides Google Maps with updates on current locations.

3. Keyhole

News about the acquisition of Keyhole¹⁴ defined Google Map’s strategy of using satellite images to make maps accurate for users. Database information from Keyhole makes Google Maps work better by boosting the zoom feature on maps.

Before, manual search for locations such as airports and streets posed challenges to users but with the acquisition of Keyhole, search became better with accurate results.

Image rotation from Keyhole software prompted this acquisition as users can adjust images based on their interests. Location zooming makes viewing easy and users appreciate this feature because of their navigation needs.

The shift by Google Maps from traditional web to image search came with the acquisition of Keyhole. Users enjoy real-time images because of better search experience from #AI and machine learning tools. Unlike ordinary web searching, image search capabilities from Keyhole have made Google Maps the ideal application for location search.

Users enjoy real-time images because of better search experience from #AI and machine learning tools

4. ZipDash

GPS technology⁷ is vital for the performance of Google Maps because of traffic information. Google Maps acquired ZipDash¹⁵ as the company had a business model that resonated with their maps strategy- real-time traffic updates.

Maps according to Google had not been doing well on traffic with the company admitting bugs and hacker incidents, which compromised security.

This experience made Google Maps acquire ZipDash and make GPS part of maps. GPS is everywhere and most technologies revolve around GPS navigation. This influenced Google Maps acquire ZipDash.

Google Maps Feature releases and updates

Software upgrades⁸ such as iOS and Android updates have improved the Google Maps user experience. According to Google, users will find it easy to navigate on maps by making important buttons available.

Users can now access the history of their travels on Google Maps, explore areas and even participate in content generation such as rating places and buildings. The save feature makes it easier to organize trips later by reminding users. By crowd-sourcing data, Google offers information about a given location that users want to learn about.

The update button on Google Maps means that users can upgrade their apps for better results. Users will also learn about new trends from the update feature followed by live contacts with businesses. The feeds section makes the updates section cool because of increasing user interactions.

Quality map directions is a goal Google Maps aims to accomplish, to boost user experiences. Commute routes pose challenges during navigation and the directions functionality can suggest alternative directions, an added advantage for commuters.

What is in the works for Google Maps?

Speed limits are an important feature for maps and Google is working on this area to make commuter movement safe. Google Maps users can set and adjust speed limits based on their routes. Additionally, users can detect speed traps as Google Maps creates alerts.

Adding a stop route⁹ while moving is another feature from Google Maps expected to make navigation easy and will allow commuters to use their devices for price comparisons such as hotels. Updates on traffic and issuing slowdown alerts is another game-changer for Google Maps and will reduce accidents¹⁰.

Reporting capabilities from Google Maps¹¹ will change user contributions such as construction sites, route closures and accidents ahead. Traffic jams will not pose challenges again as users will use maps to issue updates about congested routes. This will save others the cost of using those routes and make their experiences better.

Google Maps has the interests of the disabled in mind as the company launches more features to help disabled users find the best routes. The upgrades on the explore section from Google Maps means that users can search for location spots such as coffee places, meetings, and institutions. Google Maps is developing new features for disabled people where they can find buildings or highways designed for them.

An audio version of this Medium article is available on Spotifyand Apple Podcasts.

Works Cited:

¹Google maps location access, ²AI Solutions/Upgrades, ³Machine-learning tools, ⁴Augmented Reality, ⁵Google Maps Transformation, ⁶Google Maps Innovation, ⁷GPS Technology, ⁸Maps Software Upgrades, ⁹Stop Routes on Google Maps, ¹⁰Google Maps updates, ¹¹User Content for Google Maps

Companies Cited:

¹²Waze, ¹³Urban Engines, ¹⁴Keyhole, ¹⁵ZipDash