LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Google Maps has released data showing how people across the US are preparing for the holidays amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The popular digital map platform announced it has added features to help the app’s users navigate safely, with COVID-19 mitigation guidelines in mind.
The Google Maps navigation platform wants to make it easier to find information that helps you and your family stay safe, up-to-date, and connected with the over 50 million updates made to the map each day.
Since the start of the pandemic, Google Maps has added nearly 250 new features and improvements to the platform to help users adapt to COVID-19 guidelines.
One feature includes live updates on how crowded a location or public transit selection is at the time of desired travel.
For example, “live busyness” information is available in the app for millions of places, allowing users to easily preview critical health and safety information at a glance.
CROWD SIZE INFORMATION
Google Maps’ “popular times” algorithms are able to identify “busyness” patterns for a specific business or place.
Knowing that business is slow on a specific day, can help a shopper and business owner make more informed safety decisions.
With social distancing measures in place, businesses are adjusting hours, or even closing temporarily due to COVID-19.
Shelter-in-place orders made local grocery stores much more busy than usual as shoppers stocked up on supplies. Warm weather also caused crowds of people to gather at parks and outdoor public spaces.
A Google Maps user can now review insights from the apps’ location history data in real-time, with the apps’ ability to detect a spike in how crowded a place it can display it as “live” data and plan travel or shopping accordingly.
MAP USER PRIVACY
To ensure the safety of the app user, an advanced statistical technique known as differential privacy ensures that “busyness data” remains anonymous.
Differential privacy uses a number of methods, including artificially adding “noise” to Google’s location history dataset to generate insights without identifying any individual person.
COVID LAYER FEATURE
Google also launched the Google Maps “COVID layer” to help nearly 10 million users of the app get critical information about COVID-19 trends by displaying all-time detected COVID-19 cases in an area while linking to local, authoritative resources right from its COVID layer.
This could be handy if you’re heading out of town and need to get up to speed on the local guidelines, testing sites, and restrictions in another city.
When you open Google Maps, you can tap on the layers button on the top right-hand corner of your screen and click on “COVID-19 info”.
You’ll then see a seven-day average of new COVID cases per 100,000 people for an area with a label that indicates whether cases are trending up or down.
Color coding also helps the app-user easily distinguish the density of new cases in an area.
Data featured in the COVID layer comes from multiple authoritative sources, including Johns Hopkins, the New York Times, and Wikipedia.
These sources get data from public health organizations like the World Health Organization, government health ministries, along with state and local health agencies and hospitals, many of which already power COVID-19 case information in Google search.
Google has now expanded this data to Google Maps.
PUBLIC TRANSIT SOCIAL DISTANCING
Many preferred to avoid holiday crowds before the COVID-19 pandemic, but Google is now helping everyone in this effort even more due to social distancing guidelines and curfew restrictions in some areas. This will allow users of the Google Maps platform can better plan for trips.
If you use public transportation, Google Maps can now help you social distance with “live crowdedness” information.
On both Android and iOS devices globally, you’ll start seeing how crowded a bus, train, or subway line is based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users around the world.
RUN ERRANDS SAFELY
Whether you plan on cooking a big holiday meal or not, Google Maps is rolling out the ability to see the live status of takeout and delivery orders when you book or order from Google Maps on Android and iOS.
The app is designed to provide information so you can know when to pick up your food, or when you can expect it to arrive at your door. You can also see expected wait times, delivery fees, and easily reorder your favorites right from the Google Maps app.
When safe to do so, you will soon be able to quickly see the status of your restaurant reservation in 70 countries around the world.
ASSISTANT DRIVING MODE
Even without a global pandemic, the holidays are busy and you may need to spend some time on the road.
Last year, Google shared an early look at Google Assistant driving mode in Maps, and today, they announced they will start rolling out a preview of the experience to Android users in English in the United States.
With the new driving-friendly Assistant interface, Google says you can get more done while keeping your focus on the road.
Users will be able to use their voice to send and receive calls and texts, quickly review new messages across messaging apps in one place, and get a read-out of your texts with no need to look down at their mobile phone.
Google Assistant will even alert app users to an incoming call so they can answer or decline with voice.
The driving mode makes all of this possible without ever leaving the navigation screen, so drivers using the Google Maps platform can minimize distractions on the road.
Google says it has invested in technology that powers some of its most essential features, such as the 20 million places globally that now show popular times data to AR-powered Live View.
Even during a pandemic, more than 1 billion people can turn to Google Maps to navigate the many changes in their travel routine.
Whatever your plans are this holiday season, and no matter how much they may have changed, Google says they want to help make your travel easier and safer with Google Maps.