Update on June 26, 2019: On June 26, Google India formally announced that it has rolled out the “Get off-route alerts” feature on Google Maps that, when activated, would warn users if their driver deviated more than 0.5 kilometre from the route suggested by Google Maps. The phone will buzz with a prominent notification, and users can tap it to see where they are compared to the original route. The feature will also allow users to share their live trip with friends and family for safety reasons. This is an India-first feature. When MediaNama looked for this feature, we found that it was available on Android version, but not on the iOS version of the app.
Story on June 11, 2019: Google Maps is getting a new feature that will alert you every time your car or taxi goes off route, according to XDA Developers. Although the report says the feature is live only in India, MediaNama was unable to find this feature on multiple Android and iOS smartphones. According to the report, the new off-route alerts will be sent to your phone every time you get side-tracked from the intended course by more than 500 metres. If this feature is activated on your phone, your route will not be automatically re-routed, as is the case now. From a safety perspective, this has numerous applications — any time you take a taxi to an unfamiliar area, it will help you stay informed, this feature can be useful even when you are driving yourself.
Women’s safety being an issue in India, especially with cab-hailing services, this feature can be particularly useful. If integrated within the Google API that ride-hailing services such as Uber and Ola use, women may potentially feel safer. Last week, Google Maps launched three India-centric features, targeted at users of public transport: accurate bus timings using live traffic data, real-time information on trains, and mixed-mode directions that include auto rickshaws.
Google neither confirmed nor denied the roll-out of this feature to MediaNama and issued us a statement (included at the bottom).
We have also reached out to Ola, and Uber for more details, and will update this when we hear from them.
Similar safety features by Ola
In September 2018, Ola introduced a real-time customer ride monitoring system — ‘Guardian’. All ongoing trips are tracked by analysing ride indicators that include route deviations, and unexpected and midway stops. Safety triggers are created based on indicators and time of travel and these are attended to by Ola’s Safety Response Team. Once the data is analysed, the team connects with the customer to assess the situation and provide assistance as required. It is unclear if Ola contacts the local police and authorities for assistance.
Google Maps’ feature, instead, transfers the control for seeking assistance to the rider.
While we don’t have any news to share right now, we’re constantly looking for ways to make Google Maps more helpful to people in India, and are often experimenting with new features that enable a richer, safer experience for travelers.
***Update (June 26, 2019 12:53 pm): We have updated the article with Google India’s official announcement about the feature, and added the relevant screenshots. Originally published on June 11, 2019.