Apple Inc. intends to use drones and latest indoor navigation features to advance its Maps service and catch up to longtime leader Google, according to people conversant with the situation.
The California-based company is putting together a team of data-collection experts and robotics that will use drones in capturing and updating map information quicker than its present fleet of camera-and-sensor laden minivans, one of them said.
Apple intends to fly drones around to track changes to roads, observe street signs and monitor if areas are under construction, said the person. The data collated would then be sent to Apple teams that speedily keep the Maps app updated to supply new information to users, he added.
Also, Apple is raising innovative features for Maps, including improvements to car navigation and views inside buildings, said another person conversant with the efforts. The people requested to be anonymous while providing information about private projects. A spokeswoman for Apple, however, refused to comment.
Five years after Google Maps debuted on the iPhone, Apple’s mapping application was launched in 2012 with obvious errors like an incorrect airport address and a grocery store marked as a hospital. Apple was bereft of the tech required to speedily suck in data from a lot of different sources to weigh up and modify the digital maps.
“There is a massive data-quality concern there, and I don’t think we appreciated at first all the types of tech we would require to do that on a constant basis,” Apple’s senior VP of software engineering, Craig Federighi informed Fast Company earlier this year.
Digital maps are key tools for Apple and Google to catch the attention of developers that build ride-sharing, modern travel, and retail apps and services that combine with the mobile operating systems of the companies. Collating precise data is the most vital part of digital map building, and Apple’s most recent moves might just help it equal the prodigious capabilities of Google in the field.
Ever since Apple Maps was introduced, the company has enhanced the app by more speedily updating data, improving search results, including a means for navigating public transit systems, and opening the platform to external services like OpenTable restaurant reservations and Uber ride-hailing. The drone initiative is an extension of this endeavor and is not likely to be associated with a profit-making Apple drone product.
On Sept. 21, 2015, Apple requested for an exemption from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to fly drones for profit-making purposes, based on documents obtained by Bloomberg News. At the time, exemptions were requisite to activate drones commercially. In a response from the FAA dated March 22, 2016, Apple was granted consent to “control an unmanned aircraft system to manage data collection, videography, and photography,” according to one of the documents.
Apple’s request informed the FAA that it would utilize a variety of drones sold by firms such as Aibotix GmbH and SZ DJI Technology Co. to collate the data.
Official strategy for commercial drone operations was brought up in August, limiting flying to generally daytime hours and needing qualified pilots to control the equipment while maintaining the drones in their line of vision. Apple was loyal to these procedures, based on the documents provided by the FAA.
The existing rules confine commercial drones from soaring over people and buildings, potentially restricting Apple’s enterprise for the present. Meanwhile, Apple could fly the drones in the United States contained in FAA guidelines and fly without limitations in countries without commercial drone policy.
Apple hired at least one person from Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Air Division to assist in running the drone team, said one of the people. Prime Air is Amazon’s program to deliver parcels using drones speedily. The Apple team is being out together in Seattle, the same city as the headquarters of Amazon, the person said.
Away from improved data collection, Apple is creating an indoor mapping view that would permit users to find their way at airports, and other high-traffic buildings such as museums using iPhones, according to another person.
Apple purchased startup Indoor.io last year to assist in bringing its indoor mapping project to market, according to someone else conversant with the issue. Apple confirmed that it had purchased the startup, but refused to explain why it did the deal. The firm also acquired WiFiSlam in 2013, another startup with expertise in indoor navigation.
Indoor location tracking can be achieved through a tech combo inside the most recent iPhones, as well as pressure sensors, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Apple is equally working on a feature that offers excellent guidance for shifting lanes while driving, one of the people said. All features are intended for release next year but could be delayed, the person said.
Apple plans to fly drones around to do stuff like observe street signs, track changes to roads and watch if areas are under construction, the person said. The data collated would then be sent to Apple teams that swiftly bring up to date the Maps application to provide new info to users, the person further said.
Apple also intends to introduce internal features to Maps, which the firm considers to be not just an application but a platform.
“If you consider mobility generally, Maps is a central organizing structure for the real world in which you relate,” SVP of software engineering, Craig Federighi said early this year.