Where is the Augmented Reality button on Google Maps and Google Earth?

By: Clyde DeSouza

Ancient Rome augmented over the real world in Google Maps mobile

Ancient Rome augmented over the real world in Google Maps mobile?

While working on a project in Augmented Reality inspired by the History Channel’s “know where you stand” TV commercials, we couldn’t help but wonder why Google has not yet released a Google Maps for mobile with an AR (augmented reality) button. On the current Google Maps, there are buttons that are labelled “Map – Satellite – Terrain” that show different views of the Maps, as the user chooses. For instance, the Satellite view button when clicked displays the map as a birds eye photo-realistic photograph of the location, taken from an imagining satellite high above in space.

We propose an AR mode for Google maps…or Google E-AR-TH.

What is Google E-AR-TH?

This is not an existing offering from Google, but a project and title suggested by us, to name such an offering.  How could Google E-AR-TH be implemented and what would it comprise?

Create a great Augmented Reality application by taking Google Maps and the existing Google Earth application, ( a Digital Globe from Google) and combine the best of it’s features into a product for today’s Smart phones such as those running the Android platform and the iPhone. Most of the upcoming devices that support the Android OS, now have features that were not there a couple of years ago, such as accelerometers, Digital Compasses and GPS all built into one smart phone. Now that these devices have all this, and better memory management, a built in camera and a good processor, mobile outdoor augmented reality projects have become feasible.

Google E-AR-TH could:

  • Implement a “button” on the mobile maps titled “AR” that would actually just hide the map itself and use the live camera view as the back-ground.
  • Instantly in one go, make available more “layers” to users than what is currently on apps like LAYAR and Wikitude.
  • Allow users to simply choose which layer they want “traffic”, “weather”, “restaurants”, “Culture and Heritage” etc…
  • Take the best of Google Earth’s 3D models which are already geo-tagged, and thus have accurate 3D models of ancient buildings as a “Heritage layer”, that show up over the live view of the camera.
  • Have optimized rendering, and as the actual Digital Globe itself is not being rendered it will have less CPU power and data transfer overheads. More optimized versions of the models in Googles 3D warehouse could be used.
  • Using the existing user location and positioning data already built into Google Maps Mobile, the digital compass, and accelerometer it would be possible to further increase the accuracy of the 3D model overlay on the real world.

Imagine walking the streets of modern Rome, with the “AR Heritage” layer turned on, and seeing a 3d model super-imposed at eye-level over the existing ruins! Even if 3D models are kept for a later phase for implementation, there are numerous existing “layers” of information and a whole community of contributors using the KLM language to annotate Google Maps and Google Earth today. Annotation tools are already built into the web based versions of Google Earth and Google Maps, for bulk annotation of multimedia that can add video, images, 3D models and text which can then be viewed on the mobile devices.

Google Maps with "AR" button selected?

Google Maps with “AR” button selected?

(Image credit: How Stuff Works.com)

All this information can be viewed in context and in-situ right outdoors in the Real World. Images from the Picassa layer can hang like virtual billboards, but that’s for the commercial exploitation side of such a project. We at Real Vision are more interested in the wealth of information and education, that suddenly becomes available to end-users.

The Google Code project combined with the open source Android OS should get some teams of coders interested to create Google E-AR-TH!