Google Maps Will Now Show Eco-Friendly Routes To Get Around

Ever wondered if you could have Artificial Intelligence (AI) tell you how to save your fuel as well as reduce your carbon footprint? With the increasing fuel prices in India, we all have wondered if we should switch to public transport or walk a distance as it is more economical. 

Good news: now, Google Maps can help you! Google recently announced that it would introduce around 100 AI-powered improvements to build an advanced and novel routing model that will modify and optimise the existing one. These modifications, they say, will encourage lower fuel consumption based on factors such as traffic congestion and road incline (slopes). This initiative is a collaboration between Google and the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab.

This initiative is part of Google's commitment to helping combat climate change and global warming.

Yet to launch in India, Google mentions that this feature would be first launched in the United States, followed by global expansion sometime later this year.

While we understand that this feature will auto-suggest the most "eco-friendly" route to a user by default,

How exactly does Google plan to accomplish it?

The new model is expected to take into consideration features, such as road type, incline, traffic congestion, etc., to estimate carbon emissions. These carbon emissions will automatically be integrated to develop a "sustainable and eco-friendly" route across Google Maps. 

The eco-friendly option will be suggested as the default option, so long as the ETA is comparable to the other routes. When alternative routes are faster, Google, in their blog post, elaborates on how the users can "compare the relative carbon dioxide impact between routes and choose," when eco-friendly routes can increase your ETA significantly. 

This means that if there is a route that involves your movement in such a way that is eco-friendly but takes significantly longer than the other route, you can decide for yourself.

While the data being fed into the model in the US is based on testing across different types of cars and road types across the US, there is minimal information on how they will integrate data across other countries. 

How would this be accomplished in India?

Their blog post mentions in bits how there are features like "Established Low Emission Zones" in cities like Amsterdam and Jakarta, which are areas that limit polluting vehicles (including certain diesel cars) to help keep the air safe and clean. They expect to make this low-emission feature available in Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, France and the UK.

Google also mentions how they wish to analyse the air quality along the way and include that in countries like Australia, India, and the US. Using this feature in India would certainly allow you to avoid roads that have polluted air (maybe because of industries) and help you to avoid them.

However, while Google intends to include so many new features, there is not much clarity about how they would have to customize these features across every country.

In India, for example, there would require the inclusion of alternative routes such as trains, metros, buses or other public transport, which would be much more sustainable than purely relying on roads. Also, owing to the quality of certain roads which are managed locally, the ETA would need to be modified.

How does this move plan to help establish sustainability and eco-friendliness across users?

Pilot studies are unclear on how much this move may potentially impact the emissions. However, in a study conducted at the California State University, researchers observed that participants were more likely to consider the number of carbon emissions while selecting their route after assessing the estimates of carbon emissions from another app. Essentially, the study results depict that a person, if made aware of the carbon footprint they leave behind while travelling, are more likely to take eco-friendly options.

What other features does Google plan on including to integrate sustainability more consciously?

While this announcement mainly revolved around the introduction of this feature, Google also mentions how they plan to include features that will start warning drivers about travelling through low-emission zones and start integrating biking, public transit and other travel options in the same panel instead of having to switch. This is a great way to establish how getting around sustainably goes beyond driving. This will automatically give you a complete view of all routes and transportation modes available to your destination

This feature would probably be most useful in India owing to the plethora of public transport options available. It has long been established that public transport is not only eco-friendly but also pocket-friendly. By using advanced machine learning models, Google Maps will automatically prioritise your preferred modes - even boost modes that are popular in your city. For example, if you're in Mumbai, it will automatically show you more train routes. Or, if you live in NCR or Delhi, it will show you Metro routes owing to their accessibility. They plan to launch these features globally in the coming months on both Android and iOS.

The increasing demands for electric cars and bikes would also be reflected in their models - helping their cause that sustainably getting out and about goes beyond just taking a low emission route. It also matters how much carbon footprint you can reduce.

Google Maps has been ever-evolving to amalgamate newer innovations and feedback from its users. This step toward the conscious insertion of sustainable alternatives in something as basic as travelling is a great move on their side in bringing sustainability to the forefront. The environmental concerns of global warming, pollution, melting glaciers and climate change have impacts that we cannot reverse. However, by incorporating little changes like these, it is truly understood that every step towards sustainability makes a difference, which Google is on track to achieve. 

And if Google can, you can! Take your own little steps to create a sustainable life. 


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