Apple is planning on sending out airborne drones in the U.S. to improve data for its Maps application, Bloomberg reports. The company is also developing indoor mapping features for public buildings such as airports and museums. Apple applied for an FAA exemption in late 2015 that would allow it to fly drones for commercial purposes, and received approval earlier this year.
The company has reportedly been putting together robotics and data collection experts to get the program underway. Drones would allow Apple to update map information much more quickly than the ground-based vehicles the company is currently using. Sources indicate that drones would examine street signs, track changes to roads, and monitor construction zones, with data fed back to Apple teams for rapid updates to the database behind the Maps app. Interestingly, the report also reveals that Apple has hired at least one person from Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery division to help run the drone team, which is being assembled in Seattle — where Amazon’s headquarters is also located.
The report also reveals that Apple is leveraging last year’s acquisition of startup Indoor.io to build indoor mapping views that would allow users to navigate inside buildings such as airports, museums, and shopping malls, likely similar to a feature that Google Maps introduced back in 2011. Combined with expertise from WiFiSlam — a company that Apple acquired in 2013 — the indoor location tracking would employ iPhone features such as pressure sensors, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth to help track a user’s location while navigating an indoor area. The indoor mapping, along with new lane guidance features while driving, are planned for a release sometime next year — likely as part of the next major iOS update — according to sources. Although, as usual, the feature could still be delayed for various reasons.