Behind the scenes: popular times and live busyness information

If you’ve ever been in a rush to grab a quick bite, you may know the pain that comes along with finding out that the restaurant you chose is packed and there’s nowhere to sit. Or maybe you need to pick up just one item from the grocery store, only to find that the line is out the door—derailing your plans and causing you unnecessary stress. 

These problems were top of mind when Google Maps launched popular times and live busyness information—helpful features that let you see how busy a place tends to be on a given day and time or in a specific moment. This information has become a powerful tool during the pandemic, making it easier to social distance because you know in advance how crowded a place will be. Today, we’ll take a closer look at how we calculate busyness information, while keeping your data private and secure.

Popular times: making sense of historical busyness information

To calculate busyness insights, we analyze aggregated and anonymized Location History data from people who have opted to turn this setting on from their Google Account. This data is instrumental in calculating how busy a place typically is for every hour of the week. The busiest hour becomes our benchmark—and we then display busyness data for the rest of the week relative to that hour. 

For example, say there’s a new ice cream shop down the block known for its homemade waffle cones 🍦. With Location History insights, our systems know that the shop is consistently most crowded on Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m. As a result, popular times information for the rest of the week will be displayed as “Usually as busy as it gets” when it’s approximately as busy as Saturday at 4 p.m.,“Usually not too busy” when it is much less busy, and “Usually a little busy” for somewhere in between. This data can also show how long people tend to spend at the ice cream shop, which is handy if you’re planning a day with multiple activities and want to know how much time to allocate at each place. 

popular_times

Popular times information shows you how busy a place tends to be

Making adjustments in times of COVID

Google Maps’ popular times algorithms have long been able to identify busyness patterns for a place. With social distancing measures established and businesses adjusting hours or even closing temporarily due to COVID-19, our historical data was no longer as reliable in predicting what current conditions would be.  To make our systems more nimble, we began favoring more recent data from the previous four to six weeks to quickly adapt to changing patterns for popular times and live busyness information–with plans to bring a similar approach to other features like wait times soon.

Real-time busyness information: how busy a place is right now

Busyness patterns identified by popular times are useful—but what about when there are outliers? Shelter in place orders made local grocery stores much more busy than usual as people stocked up on supplies. Warm weather can cause crowds of people to flock to a nearby park. And a new promotion or discount can drive more customers to nearby stores and restaurants.

Take the ice cream shop again. Say that, knowing that business is slow on Tuesdays, the shop owners decide to host a three scoop sundae giveaway on a Tuesday to promote their newest flavor—because everyone loves free ice cream! The promotion brings in more than double the amount of customers they typically see on that day and time. Gleaning insights from Location History data in real time, our systems are able to detect this spike in busyness and display it as “Live” data in Google Maps so you can see how busy the shop is right now—even if it varies drastically from its typical busyness levels.

live_busyness

Live busyness information shows you how busy a place is right now

Making sure your data is private, safe and secure

Privacy is a top priority when calculating busyness, and it’s woven into every step of the process. We use an advanced statistical technique known as differential privacy to ensure that busyness data remains anonymous. Differential privacy uses a number of methods, including artificially adding “noise” to our Location History dataset to generate busyness insights without ever identifying any individual person. And if our systems don’t have enough data to provide an accurate, anonymous busyness recommendation, we don’t publish it—which is why there are times when you may not see busyness information for a place at all.

Google Maps is always thinking about ways to solve the problems you face throughout your day, whether they’re big (like getting around safely) or small (like quickly snagging your favorite scoop of ice cream). Check out the Maps 101 series for other under-the-hood looks at your favorite features, with more deep dives coming soon.

More from this Series

Maps 101

Google Maps helps you navigate, explore, and get things done every single day. In this series, we’ll take a look under the hood at how Google Maps uses technology to build helpful products—from using flocks of sheep and laser beams to gather high-definition imagery to predicting traffic jams that haven’t even happened yet.

View more from Maps 101

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Stay informed and get around safely with Google Maps

People turn to Google Maps for accurate, fresh information about what’s going on in the world—especially so during the pandemic. Activities like picking up something from the store, going for a walk, or grabbing a bite to eat now require a significant amount of planning and preparation. At any given time, you may be thinking: “Does the place I’m headed to have enough room for social distancing?” or “What safety precautions are being taken at my destination?”

Today, as part of our Search On event, we’re announcing new improvements to arm you with the information you need to navigate your world safely and get things done.

Make informed decisions with new live busyness updates

The ability to see busyness information on Google Maps has been one of our most popular features since it launched back in 2016. During the pandemic, this information has transformed into an essential tool, helping people quickly understand how busy a place is expected to be so they can make better decisions about where to go and when. In fact, as people around the world adjusted to life during the pandemic, they used popular times and live busyness information more. We saw engagement with these features rise 50 percent between March and May as more people tapped, scrolled and compared data to find the best days and times to go places.   

We’ve been expanding live busyness information to millions of places around the world, and are on track to increase global coverage by five times compared to June 2020. This expansion includes more outdoor areas, like beaches and parks, and essential places, like grocery stores, gas stations, laundromats and pharmacies. Busyness information will surface in directions and right on the map—so you don’t even need to search for a specific place in order to see how busy it is. This will soon be available to Android, iOS and desktop users worldwide.

live busyness

You’ll soon be able to see live busyness information without even searching for a place.

busyness_directions

See live busyness information for your destination when getting directions

A new way to source up-to-date business information

It’s hard to know how a business’ offerings have changed during the pandemic. To help people find the freshest business information possible, we’ve been using Duplex conversational technology to call businesses and verify their information on Maps and Search. Since April 2020, this information has helped make more than 3 million updates, including updated hours of operation, delivery and pickup options, and store inventory information for in-demand products such as face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant. To date, these updates have been viewed more than 20 billion times.

Important health and safety information about businesses is now front and center on Maps and Search. You can quickly know what safety precautions a business is taking, such as if they require customers to wear masks and make reservations, if there’s plexiglass onsite, or if their staff takes regular temperature checks. This information comes directly from businesses, and soon Google Maps users will also be able to contribute this useful information.

health_safety_attributes

Health and safety information is now front and center in Google Maps

See helpful information right from Live View

Getting around your city looks different these days. The stakes are higher due to safety concerns, and it’s important to have all the information you need before deciding to visit a place. In the coming months, people using Android and iOS devices globally will be able to use Live View, a feature that uses AR to help you find your way, to learn more about a restaurant, store or business.

Say you’re walking around a new neighborhood, and one boutique in particular captures your attention. You’ll be able to use Live View to quickly learn if it’s open, how busy it is, its star rating, and health and safety information if available, 

live_view_place_info

Use Live View to quickly see helpful information about a business.

The pandemic has changed how we interact with the world. Getting around, shopping for essentials and finding things to do all require more thought and consideration, and Google Maps is here to help.

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The Navajo Nation addresses its residents with Plus Codes

At the Navajo Nation Division of Community Development, we have a total IT staff of two. There are many challenges the Navajo Nation faces, and many of them are at the community level, and I work to find technical solutions to help solve some of these challenges. For example, we’re facing a potential undercount in this year’s Census due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’m helping to provide statistical information and making that information easy to access for members of the community, too. 

A few years back, I was attending Google’s Geo for Good Summit, checking out all the new geographic tools Google had developed. That’s where I learned about Plus Codes, and that’s when we started our collaboration. 

Around the world, several billion people either don’t have an address, or have one that doesn’t accurately identify the location of their home or business. That’s why Google created Plus Codes, which use latitude and longitude to produce a short digital address that’s easy to share. Google Maps already provides millions of directions each month to people using Plus Codes, and we’ve found them to be extremely useful for rural Navajo communities, where at least 50,000 properties don’t have an address.

The Navajo Nation has been using Plus Codes to establish locations of community resources like watering points, food distribution locations and free public Wi-Fi hotspots. The Bluff Area Mutual Aid, led by the Rural Utah Project, also used Plus Codes to identify where people in need were located and how best to deliver the needed food and supplies. The Bluff Area Mutual Aid has raised enough money to deliver more than 900 food boxes for relief efforts. 

I believe that once people see how useful Plus Codes can be in actual use, they will become inspired to use it in other, creative ways to improve their lives. People have started using Plus Codes for service delivery from the chapter to community members, package and postal delivery through partnerships with shipping companies, and in adapting it to establish location information for COVID-relief efforts.

Technology can’t solve all our problems, but I hope that we can invest heavily in upgrading our infrastructure, including roads, electrical power and broadband Internet. This will help attract more businesses and economic activity, keeping our young people from moving away to find work. Our own talented Navajo people are heading these development efforts, and it’s a point of pride to say that we are working for a better future for our community.

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Ask a Techspert: How do satellite images work?

When flying, I am firmly a window seat person. (And I can’t wait to start flying again… or at least get out of my apartment.) Not because I’m annoyed by the beverage cart hitting my elbows (though I am), or because I like to blankly stare out at the endless sky (which I do), but because I enjoy looking down at the streets, buildings and skyline of my destination as we land. It’s thrilling to watch cars move, see skyscrapers cast shadows on the street or check out the reflection of the sun in a body of water. For most of human history, it was impossible to even imagine what Earth looked like from above, and only in the past century have we been able to capture it. 

Today, satellite imagery is one of the most popular features on Google Maps. Capturing the world from above is a huge undertaking, matching millions of images to precise locations. But how does satellite imagery actually work? How often are images updated? What are some of the biggest challenges to bringing satellite imagery to more than 1 billion users?

To answer these questions, I reached out to our satellite imagery techspert, Matt Manolides. Matt is Google’s Geo Data Strategist. He’s worked at Google for over 14 years and he gave me an aerial view (pun intended) of how satellite imagery works.

How do we accumulate the images used in Google Maps? Do we actually use satellites? 

The mosaic of satellite and aerial photographs you can see in Google Maps and Google Earth is sourced from many different providers, including state agencies, geological survey organizations and commercial imagery providers. These images are taken on different dates and under different lighting and weather conditions.

In fact, there’s an entire industry around doing aerial surveys. Companies cut holes in the bottom of planes, and cameras take pictures as they fly overhead. In many areas around the world, this is happening constantly. In parts of the world where there isn’t an established aerial survey market, we rely on satellites. With aerial surveys, we get very high-quality images that are sharp enough to create detailed maps. Satellites produce lower-quality imagery, but are still helpful because they provide global coverage. 

When do the images meet the map? 

“Google obtains commercially-available satellite imagery from a range of third parties, and our team stitches the images together to create a seamless map,” Matt tells me. This is a process called photogrammetry and, according to Matt, we’re increasingly able to automate our photogrammetry process using machine learning to help accurately place images and improve resolution. 

For aerial data, the images are delivered on hard disks and we upload them into Google Cloud. For satellite imagery, the data is uploaded directly from our providers to Google Cloud. The imagery is delivered in a raw format, meaning it’s not yet positioned on the ground and is separated into red, blue and green photos, as well as panchromatic images, which includes finer details. We then combine the jumble of images so they all line up and have an accurate placement in the real world, and generally look beautiful.  

Hard drives with satellite imagery in a room

Rooms full of hard drives, each one jam-packed with aerial images.

How often do you update satellite images? 

“We aim to update satellite imagery of the places that are changing the most,” Matt says. For instance, because big cities are always evolving, we try to update our satellite images every year. For medium-sized cities, we try to update images every two years, and it goes up to every three years for smaller cities. Overall our goal is to keep densely populated places refreshed on a regular basis and to keep up with a changing world, so we will refresh areas more frequently when we think there’s lots of building or road construction going on.

Why do we sometimes see mysterious objects on Maps? What are they? 

Matt explains that sometimes the way the images are collected can create optical illusions. One of the most common instances of this are “sunken ships,” which are actually regular, operating ships that might appear underwater due to the way the satellite imagery gets layered together. Other times, sunlight can reflect off something shiny, and it will look like a strange white object that some believe are haunted houses or other such spookiness.

sinking_ship.png

A spooky “sunken ship” illusion in London. 

Because the satellite cameras take multiple pictures at the same time, but in different color spectrums, a fast-moving object, like a plane, can look strange, like several identical but differently-colored planes flying over each other. 

"Rainbow" plane image

As for Matt, his favorite part is finding public events that are happening when the images are captured. From hydroplane races to car shows, it’s fascinating to see events in the overhead imagery. 

“When I was a kid growing up in Seattle, I always loved the hydroplane races that would happen each summer. It was a thrill to realize that we captured one from the air back in 2010,” Matt says. “The imagery isn’t visible in Google Maps anymore, but you can still see it using Google Earth Pro’s Historic Imagery feature, which lets you browse our full catalog of imagery.”

Hydroplane races

A hydroplane race on Lake Sammamish, Washington, on June 10, 2010. 

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A new sense of direction with Live View

Live View in Google Maps helps you keep your bearings so you can find your way around. With new ways to use Live View, we’re making it even easier to orient yourself in the world whether you’re walking around, leaving a public transit station or meeting up with friends. 

We launched Live View last year, and since then it’s helped people get around efficiently–especially during the pandemic, when getting from place to place as directly as possible is top of mind. Thanks to augmented reality (AR), you can see arrows, directions, and distance markers placed right on top of your world so you spend less time figuring out which way you should be headed. 

Use landmarks to orient yourself in Live View

When you select or search for a place on Google Maps, you can already tap on the Live View button to visualize your destination in the real world. Soon, you’ll also be able to see nearby landmarks so you can quickly and easily orient yourself and understand your surroundings. Live View will show you how far away certain landmarks are from you and what direction you need to go to get there. These landmarks can include iconic places, like the Empire State Building in New York and the Pantheon in Rome, and easily recognizable places, like local parks and tourist attractions.

Landmarks Live View

Seeing landmarks in Live View helps you better understand your surroundings. 

Get Live View in more places 

You can now access Live View right from the transit tab in Google Maps. Back in 2018, we launched multi-modal navigation–a way to get directions for a trip that involves a combination of transportation types, including walking, driving, biking and transit. Now, if you’re using transit directions and have a walking portion of your journey, you can use Live View to find your way. This is particularly useful when you exit a transit station and don’t know which way to go.

Live View Transit

Use Live View right from transit navigation.

Live View in Location Sharing–

soon available on Android and iOS

If you’re meeting up with friends for a socially distant gathering, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where they are. Last month, we launched Live View in Location Sharing for Pixel users, and we’ll soon expand this to all Android and iOS users around the globe. When a friend has chosen to share their location with you, you can easily tap on their icon and then on Live View to see where and how far away they are–with overlaid arrows and directions that help you  know where to go.

Live View Location Sharing

Live View in Location Sharing will soon expand to all Android and iOS users globally on ARCore and ARKit supported phones.

A more accurate pin

To bring all of these features to life, we’ve made improvements to global localization, the underlying technology that powers all Live View features on Google Maps. With the help of machine learning and our understanding of the world’s topography, we’re able to take the elevation of a place into account so we can more accurately display the location of the destination pin in Live View. Below, you can see how Lombard Street—a steep, winding street in San Francisco—previously appeared far off into the distance. Now, you can quickly see that Lombard Street is much closer and the pin is aligned with where the street begins at the bottom of the hill.

terrain anchors

 Improvements to global localization now show a more accurate pin placement.

No matter where you’re walking, Live View can help you get there as efficiently as possible. You’ll start seeing Live View in the transit tab and Location Sharing on Android and iOS in the coming weeks, along with a more accurate pin. Landmarks start rolling out soon on Android and iOS in nearly 25 cities* around the world, with more to come. 

*Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Dubai, Florence, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo, Vienna

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How we’re giving everyone, everywhere an address

We’ve gone behind the scenes to look at how we map the world, use imagery to capture the meaningful details around us, and all the ways contributed content and AI make Google Maps a more helpful tool—from planning your trip to deciding where to go.

Today, we’ll dive into how we are working to make sure everyone in the world has access to an address using our free, open-source digital address-making system called Plus Codes.

Addresses help us find people and places, and they help people and things find us. An address is also necessary to secure official documents and do things like open a bank account. However, several billion people either don’t have an address at all or they have one that doesn’t accurately identify the location of their home or business. Plus Codes offer a simple but powerful solution. Already, Google Maps provides millions of directions each month to people looking up a place with a Plus Code and this volume is rapidly growing.

Plus Codes help ensure that everyone, everywhere can exist on a digital map, with digital addresses, no matter where they live.

So what are Plus Codes? 

Plus Codes use latitude and longitude to produce a short, easy-to-share digital address that can represent any location on the planet. For example, the Plus Code “W2GJ+JQ, Johannesburg” represents the main entrance to the Google office in Johannesburg, South Africa. Put this code into Google Maps or Google Search and you’ll be brought right to our front door in Johannesburg.

Google's office Plus Codes address in Johannesburg

The Plus Code address for Google’s Johannesburg office is W2GJ+JQ, Johannesburg

Helping people get on the map

A Plus Code can easily be used where no addresses, street names or even streets exist today.  Someone in an area without addresses no longer needs to give out complicated instructions to find a home or workplace—like “drive to the community center, turn left and look for the blue house with the red roof.”  Now, they can simply share a short Plus Code and it immediately works.

Businesses and services that rely on navigating to peoples’ homes can simply enter the Plus Code into Google Maps and get directions instantly. Emergency services and humanitarian groups can more easily find people who need aid, locate people for vaccine programs and easily track health programs all with Plus Codes. 

Generating Plus Codes

In the absence of street names and accurate addresses, how are Plus Codes created? 

First, we divide the world along latitude and longitude lines to form a simple grid. The grid is labelled along the X and Y axis using a specific set of 20 alphanumeric characters  {2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,C,F,G,H,J,M,P,Q,R,V,W,X}. You’ll never see a vowel or characters like “1”, “L” and “l” in a Plus Code as we want to avoid confusion over the characters when writing them down and prevent any accidental word formations. And by using a carefully selected set of alphanumeric characters, Plus Codes can be used by anyone no matter what language you speak.

Each grid cell on the digital globe is then further divided, the X and Y-axes again labelled with the 20 characters above and the process repeated to build out a full Plus Code. In the case of the Google Johannesburg office this would result in a full Plus Code of “5G5CW2GJ+JQ”. 

Since a full Plus Code might not be easy to recall, you can conveniently drop the first four characters of the code if you know the area you are in,  just as we drop area codes on telephone numbers when already in the area. In this case, if I know I am in Johannesburg the Plus Code for the Google office can be shortened to “W2GJ+JQ, Johannesburg.”

Depending on the number of characters included in the code after the ‘+’ sign, the code can be even more specific. For example a Plus Code with two characters after the ‘+’ sign represents an area of approximately 13m x 13m, about the size of a half a basketball court. Adding an additional character reduces this size to approximately 3m x 3m, providing an exact address for a sidewalk vendor who may not even have a storefront. 

And this might go without saying, but Plus Codes are named after the ‘+’ sign that is one of their key characteristics. This sign is used to help people and our digital applications recognize the code as a Plus Code. 

Plus Codes in Sao Paolo, Brazil

Plus Codes in Sao Paolo, Brazil

Community addressing

Providing conventional (non-digital) addresses to communities at scale can be complicated and expensive for local and national governments, often taking years to set up and become useful. With Plus Codes, a village, town, city or even country can quickly and efficiently set up an addressing system. And unlike conventional addressing projects, once a Plus Code address is created it is immediately usable on platforms such as Google Maps and anywhere else that recognizes Plus Codes both online and offline. This means that new services (both digital and non-digital) are more readily available to traditionally underserved communities that lack proper addresses. 

The power of Plus Code addresses

While there are other digital address-making solutions, they’re often proprietary or must be commercially licensed, which can mean unnecessary costs, complications and longer term uncertainty for businesses and governments. These solutions also have challenges with universal recognition and adoption, as they are generally not open source or freely available.  

Here’s a taste of the positive impact we’ve seen Plus Codes deliver.

  • Addressing the Unaddressed

    In India, the NGO Addressing The Unaddressed has successfully used Plus Codes to provide addresses to hundreds of thousands of residents.

  • Rural Utah Project.png

    In the United States, the Rural Utah Project has provided addresses using Plus Codes to the Navajo Nation, helping emergency responders reach people faster when time is of the essence.

  • Sao Paulo

    In Brazil the state of Saõ Paulo has announced the usage of Plus Codes as an address-making solution for rural areas across the state.

We recently introduced a refreshed Plus Codes icon to make it more recognizable. If you’d like to learn more about Plus Codes, how to use them and how they’re being used, visit maps.google.com/pluscodes.

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Navigate safely with new COVID data in Google Maps

More than one billion people turn to Google Maps for essential information about how to get from place to place–especially during the pandemic when safety concerns are top of mind. Features like popular times and live busyness, COVID-19 alerts in transit, and COVID checkpoints in driving navigation were all designed to help you stay safe when you’re out and about. This week, we’re introducing the COVID layer in Maps, a tool that shows critical information about COVID-19 cases in an area so you can make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do. 

How it works

When you open Google Maps, 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 the area of the map you’re looking at, and a label that indicates whether the cases are trending up or down. Color coding also helps you easily distinguish the density of new cases in an area. Trending case data is visible at the country level for all 220 countries and territories that Google Maps supports, along with state or province, county, and city-level data where available.

  • covid_south_america

    Country and state level data in South America

  • covid_midwest

    State-level data in the midwestern U.S.

  • covid_florida

    County-level data in Florida

  • covid_india

    Country and state-level data in India

  • covid_button

    Tap the layers button to see COVID data

  • covid_menu

    Select “COVID-19 Info” from the bottom of the layers menu

Where we get the data 

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 these sources already power COVID case information in Search, and we’re now expanding this data to Google Maps. 

While getting around is more complicated these days, our hope is that these Google Maps features will help you get where you need to be as safely and efficiently as possible. The COVID layer starts rolling out worldwide on Android and iOS this week. 

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Google Maps 101: How AI helps predict traffic and determine routes

Every day, over 1 billion kilometers are driven with Google Maps in more than 220 countries and territories around the world. When you hop in your car or on your motorbike and start navigating, you’re instantly shown a few things: which way to go, whether the traffic along your route is heavy or light, an estimated travel time, and an estimated time of arrival (ETA). While all of this appears simple, there’s a ton going on behind the scenes to deliver this information in a matter of seconds.

Today, we’ll break down one of our favorite topics: traffic and routing. If you’ve ever wondered just how Google Maps knows when there’s a massive traffic jam or how we determine the best route for a trip, read on. 

Live traffic, powered by drivers all around the world

When people navigate with Google Maps, aggregate location data can be used to understand traffic conditions on roads all over the world. But while this information helps you find current traffic estimates —whether or not a traffic jam will affect your drive right now—it doesn’t account for what traffic will look like 10, 20, or even 50 minutes into your journey. This is where technology really comes into play.

Predicting traffic with advanced machine learning techniques, and a little bit of history

To predict what traffic will look like in the near future, Google Maps analyzes historical traffic patterns for roads over time. For example, one pattern may show that the 280 freeway in Northern California typically has vehicles traveling at a speed of 65mph between 6-7am, but only at 15-20mph in the late afternoon. We then combine this database of historical traffic patterns with live traffic conditions, using machine learning to generate predictions based on both sets of data. 

Recently, we partnered with DeepMind, an Alphabet AI research lab, to improve the accuracy of our traffic prediction capabilities. Our ETA predictions already have a very high accuracy bar–in fact, we see that our predictions have been consistently accurate for over 97% of trips. By partnering with DeepMind, we’ve been able to cut the percentage of inaccurate ETAs even further by using a machine learning architecture known as Graph Neural Networks–with significant improvements in places like Berlin, Jakarta, São Paulo, Sydney, Tokyo, and Washington D.C. This technique is what enables Google Maps to better predict whether or not you’ll be affected by a slowdown that may not have even started yet

Keeping it fresh

For most of the 13 years that Google Maps has provided traffic data, historical traffic patterns have been reliable indicators of what your conditions on the road could look like—but that’s not always the case. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic patterns around the globe have shifted dramatically. We saw up to a 50 percent decrease in worldwide traffic when lockdowns started in early 2020. Since then, parts of the world have reopened gradually, while others maintain restrictions. To account for this sudden change, we’ve recently updated our models to become more agile—automatically prioritizing historical traffic patterns from the last two to four weeks, and deprioritizing patterns from any time before that.

How Google Maps selects routes

Our predictive traffic models are also a key part of how Google Maps determines driving routes. If we predict that traffic is likely to become heavy in one direction, we’ll automatically find you a lower-traffic alternative. We also look at a number of other factors, like road quality. Is the road paved or unpaved, or covered in gravel, dirt or mud? Elements like these can make a road difficult to drive down, and we’re less likely to recommend this road as part of your route. We also look at the size and directness of a road—driving down a highway is often more efficient than taking a smaller road with multiple stops.

Two other sources of information are important to making sure we recommend the best routes: authoritative data from local governments and real-time feedback from users. Authoritative data lets Google Maps know about speed limits, tolls, or if certain roads are restricted due to things like construction or COVID-19. And incident reports from drivers let Google Maps quickly show if a road or lane is closed, if there’s construction nearby, or if there’s a disabled vehicle or an object on the road. Both sources are also used to help us understand when road conditions change unexpectedly due to mudslides, snowstorms, or other forces of nature.

Putting it all together

So how exactly does this all work in real life? Say you’re heading to a doctor’s appointment across town, driving down the road you typically take to get there. When you leave the house, traffic is flowing freely, with zero indication of any disruptions along the way. With Google Maps’ traffic predictions combined with live traffic conditions, we let you know that if you continue down your current route, there’s a good chance you’ll get stuck in unexpected gridlock traffic about 30 minutes into your ride—which would mean missing your appointment. As a result, Google Maps automatically reroutes you using its knowledge about nearby road conditions and incidents—helping you avoid the jam altogether and get to your appointment on time.

Predicting traffic and determining routes is incredibly complex—and we’ll keep working on tools and technology to keep you out of gridlock, and on a route that’s as safe and efficient as possible.

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3 easy ways to maximize the new Saved tab in Google Maps

The Saved tab in Google Maps lets you save and manage all the places you’re interested in, from must-try restaurants nearby to far-flung places for the bucket list. And it’s a popular feature too. Worldwide, people have saved more than 7 billion places on Google Maps. Even during a time when people may not be travelling as much, we’re seeing people still use the Saved tab as they shift the types of places they’re saving to Google Maps.

What kind of places are people saving? To give you a sense, here’s a selection of the all-time most popular places and recent rising categories:

All time top saved places in Google Maps
Rising categories of saved places in Google Maps

Today, we’re starting to rollout updates to the Saved tab that will make it even easier for you to find and remember the places that matter most to you. Here are three tips for the new Saved tab:

1. Remember your most recently saved places

When you’ve saved a place a friend or colleague recommended and a few days or weeks have passed, it can be hard to remember what the name of the place was or what list you even saved it to. Now, your recently saved places are organized at the top of the Saved tab so you can quickly find the place you’re looking for.

Recently saved places in Google Maps.png

Easily remember the places you recently saved in Google Maps

2. Know when you’re close to a place you’ve saved before

When you have a lot of saved places in your current area, it can be challenging to quickly figure out which is which and where to go. When location permission is enabled, you can see all your nearby saved places sorted by distance and arranged in a carousel for easy browsing to make your next decision a breeze.

Nearby Saved places

Discover when you’re close to a place you’ve saved

3. Remember where you’ve been 

If you’ve chosen to turn on your Location History setting, you can use your Timeline to remember the places you’ve been and routes you’ve taken. You can see how far you’ve biked, walked and ran over the past few days. You can also easily find that amazing hole in the wall restaurant you visited during one of your past vacations, or that cute boutique you popped into a few weeks ago. All of these insights are now organized by time, city, region or country.

Visited places in the Saved Tab

See your Timeline of the places you’ve been and routes you’ve taken

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A more detailed, colorful map

Since it launched 15 years ago, Google Maps has redefined what it means to be a map–evolving from a powerful navigational tool to a robust daily companion that also offers helpful information about where to go and what to do. Features like popular times, multimodal navigation, and offline maps help you better understand your world so you can decide how to interact with it.

This week, we’re rolling out new visual improvements that bring even more detail and granularity to the map, making it easier to understand what an area looks like whether you’re exploring virtually or planning a visit.

A more colorful and accurate view of the world🌎

Google Maps has high-definition satellite imagery for over 98 percent of the world’s population. With a new color-mapping algorithmic technique, we’re able to take this imagery and translate it into an even more comprehensive, vibrant map of an area at global scale. Exploring a place gives you a look at its natural features—so you can easily distinguish tan, arid beaches and deserts from blue lakes, rivers, oceans and ravines. You can know at a glance how lush and green a place is with vegetation, and even see if there are snow caps on the peaks of mountaintops. 

With this update, Google Maps has one of the most comprehensive views of natural features on any major map app—with availability in all 220 countries and territories that Google Maps supports. That’s coverage for over 100M square kilometers of land, or 18 billion football fields!

This update is visible no matter what area you’re looking at—from the biggest metropolitan areas to small, rural towns.

Mapping the rainbow 🌈

How exactly does this color-mapping technique work? First, we use computer vision to identify natural features from our satellite imagery, looking specifically at arid, icy, forested, and mountainous regions. We then analyze these features and assign them a range of colors on the HSV color model. For example, a densely covered forest can be classified as dark green, while an area of patchy shrubs could appear as a lighter shade of green. 

  • iceland_resized

    Iceland’s rich landscape is now much easier to visualize. You can see the varying densities of greenery throughout the country and more easily spot Vatnajökull–the largest ice cap in Iceland, which is now depicted in white.

  • morocco_resized

    Morocco’s greenery pops, so you quickly get a sense of the vegetation that lines its coast and the northern part of the country.

  • mount_rainier_resized

    Zoom out on Mt. Rainier National Park to see its mountainous ridges, white snowcap, and vegetation surrounding the area. The borders of the national park are more clearly defined with a darker shade of green.

  • croatia_resized

    You can clearly make out the beaches and greenery that line Croatia’s coast and nearby islands, like Hvar.

  • sedona_resized

    Panning over Sedona, Arizona accurately reflects its desert landscape and more clearly displays where Red Rock State Park is located.

More detail when you’re on the go 🚶🏽‍♀️

While seeing natural features can help you get a feel for an area, sometimes you need more information to get around safely and efficiently. Soon, you’ll be able to see highly detailed street information that shows the accurate shape and width of a road to scale. You can also see exactly where sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian islands are located–crucial information if you have accessibility needs, like wheelchair or stroller requirements. These details are particularly helpful as more people are opting to walk or take other forms of solo transportation due tothe pandemic. We’ll start rolling out detailed street maps in London, New York, and San Francisco in the coming months, with plans to expand to more cities over time.  

detailed_street_maps

View crosswalks, sidewalks, and pedestrian islands right from Google Maps. You can also see the shape and width of roads.

Whether you’re exploring a new place or gearing up to head around town, you can use Google Maps to see a more colorful, easy-to-understand representation of the world starting this week. To see natural features, zoom out on Google Maps. And if you’re a Google Maps Platform developer, you’ll soon be able to apply this new styling to your maps.

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