Fleet to Gather Maps Data

Apple has assembled a group of robotics and data-collection experts who will use unmanned aerial vehicles — that is, drones — to obtain data for updates to its Maps app, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

Apple, Google and others in the cartography space currently collect a lot of their data using motor vehicles equipped with high-tech gear.

“That’s a very expensive and time-consuming process,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst at Navigant Research.

“Doing it with drones provides the potential to gather the same kind of data in a much more cost-effective manner and do it more rapidly,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Drones allow them to cover more territory faster,” observed Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

“It is the most obvious way to help keep road data up to speed at all times,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Drone AloneHowever, drones are no substitute for a fleet of ground vehicles, maintained Tsou, a professor in the geography department at San Diego State University.

“I don’t think drones can replace the ground vehicles since there are many limitations of UAVs,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The viewpoint of drones is very different from a car. For car navigation purposes, the car view is more important than an airplane view.”

There are other disadvantages to using drones for information collecion.

“Most folks recognize a Google Street View car as it drives along the road, and even a Street View pedestrian with the huge camera and backpack is pretty recognizable,” noted Ken Hyers, director of wireless device strategies for Strategy Analytics.

However, “a small drone whizzing around may surprise or irritate folks,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Privacy also will be an issue.

“When a ground vehicle collects this information, it is driving along public roads and can only see what’s visible from the road,” Hyers explained, “but a drone can peek over fences, look in backyards, and into rooms behind balconies.”

 

Indoor Maps

The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year approved Apple’s request to operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct data collection, photography and videography.

The approval is subject to a number of conditions and limitations: a drone’s speed can not exceed 87 knots; its altitude is limited to 400 feet; and its flight operations must be kept at least 500 feet away from all persons, vessels, vehicles and structures, with certain exceptions.

In addition, drones must be flown during daylight hours and within eyesight of a pilot licensed to operate a UAV.

Apple also plans to add an indoor navigation features to Maps to help people find their away around high-traffic buildings, such as airport terminals and museums, according to the Bloomberg report. The company likely will use technology gained with two recent acquisitions — Indoor.io and WiFiSlam — for that purpose.