Google today announced a notable expansion to the Google Maps Platform, one that will give ride-hail companies and on-demand delivery services access to more location and navigational smarts.

The launch comes as food delivery services in particular have seen a surge in demand due to the global pandemic, as wary consumers steered clear of busy eateries and restaurants were forced to transition to takeaway if they weren’t already embracing it. This trend has permeated the retail landscape, too, with delivery drivers in high-demand across the spectrum. Google now wants to cater specifically to this new world order, by packing its years of maps experience into a single service aimed specifically to these industries.

Google actually launched the first incarnation of the Maps ridesharing product back In 2018 as part of the Google Maps Platform launch, enabling developers from ride-hail companies such as MyTaxi to integrate turn-by-turn navigation, voice guidance, real-time traffic information, rerouting, and more familiar features from the consumer version of Google Maps. This saves drivers from having to switch between their main drivers’ app where they manage all their bookings, and third-party navigation apps such as Waze, Here, or — indeed — Google Maps. It also promises more accurate location data for all their drivers, including detecting which direction they’re driving, meaning that ride-hail platform can allocate the most suitable driver for each booking and improve ETA times.

From today, Google is pushing a handful of new features into limited availability, built squarely with on-demand transport in mind.

Map data

“On-demand rides & deliveries,” as the new offering is called, now ships with a feature called “routes preferred.” This builds upon Google’s existing Routes APIs, and shows the rider key information such as the driver’s ETA, anticipated route, and a price estimation displayed on a Google Map. Moreover, this also gives optimized routing for two-wheeled vehicles, which is particularly pertinent in the food delivery realm where bikes and motorcycles are commonplace, while drivers can customize their routes for the shortest or fastest journey, or to bypass toll roads.

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Related to this, the new Google Maps Platform also provides “trip & order progress,” which conveys the real-time status of drivers as they make their way along their route. This gives the customer a direct view of their driver’s current location, planned route, and ETA, while also displaying live traffic conditions which can help provide extra context as to why a driver’s ETA keeps dropping by several minutes. Ultimately, this is designed to reduce customers’ frustration — if they’re awaiting a food or package delivery, they can see exactly where it is and why it’s delayed.

Google said that it has been testing these new features with customers for more than a year already, one of which is Indian on-demand delivery company Dunzo, which just so happens to count Google as an investor.

Above: Indian on-demand delivery company Dunzo has been testing the new Google Maps Platform, including Trip & Order Progress

Elsewhere, on-demand transport firms can also now access a feature called “nearby drivers,” which — as its name suggests — enables them to more easily find and deploy the most suitable driver or courier to accept a booking. This is powered by what Google senior product manager Eli Danziger calls “enhanced in-app navigation,” which speedily (and automatically) updates driver locations — this is crucial, because the less time it takes to establish each driver’s true location, the more efficient a platform will be in matching the driver to the job in hand.

While on-demand transport firms can develop all these features and functionalities themselves atop maps provided by third-parties, tapping Google’s 15-plus years experience in the map and location technology sphere saves them the hassle and expense of doing so.

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Aside from Dunzo, Google has also been working with Didi Chuxing, the Uber of China, which has been slowly expanding its ride-hailing service into global markets, as well as Indonesia’s Gojek and Europe’s Free Now, which is a joint venture between BMW and Daimler.

Uber is also a long-time Google Maps customer, though Google wasn’t able to confirm whether it is using any aspect of its new on-demand rides & deliveries product.

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