It is no secret that Apple has been driving vehicles around the world to collect data which it says will be used to improve Apple Maps. The company even has its website detailing when and where you can expect to find these automobiles. One such vehicle was recently spotted in New York, and the amount of hardware fastened onto its roof has got us believing that Apple Maps is soon going to get a sensational upgrade.
So what exactly does this hardware consist of? Well, we have counted a GPS antenna, six wide-angled cameras (three on each side), a camera each on the front and the back, and (drumrolls, please!) four Velodyne LiDAR sensors. Now, we know LiDAR is the go-to perception sensor for self-driving cars, a project Apple is also interested in. Having four LiDARs bolted on its top gives the Apple vehicle 360-degree, 3D view of its surroundings, as well as calibrated reflectivity data for precise positioning and object classification and tracking within that environment.
All this indicates that Apple Maps is possibly getting a massive upgrade in the form of 3D street view. Or is may be possible that Apple is killing two birds with one stone here: Getting data so precise that not only can it lend 3D street view capabilities to its Maps, it can also use the same data to power its autonomous vehicles project! Considering that the vehicle which was spotted carried a clear Apple Maps branding, let’s stick to the first theory for now.
Ever since Apple made its disastrous Maps debut in 2012, it has struggled to keep up with Google. Having 3D street view may finally give Apple Maps an edge over the Google counterpart as Google simply stitches multiple images together to create Street View and hence its product lacks true depth.
With the upcoming iOS 11, Apple is preparing millions of iPhones and iPads to be used as Augmented Reality (AR) viewers. Making Apple Maps AR-enabled using this 3D street view data would make perfect sense for the company. We already know that iOS 11 is going to introduce indoor maps for malls and airports in the United States, as well as for international locations. And iOS 11 public beta users are reporting a 3D ‘flyover’ mode in Maps reminiscent of Google Earth virtual reality. All in all, it’s heartening to see Apple really stepping up efforts to make its Maps better.