In an attempt to become more competitive with Google Maps, Apple is assembling a team of robotics and data experts in order to use drones to improve its Maps application. Drones offer a faster way to collect and update map information than the fleet of vans that Apple currently uses. These drones would examine street signs, observe changes to roads, and see if areas are under construction, according to a Bloomberg report.
Apple has secured permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly unmanned aircraft systems commercially. On March 22, 2016, the FAA granted the company approval to operate these drones to capture data, photographs, and videos. However, FAA regulations released in June prevent drones from flying above people and buildings. Thus, Apple can only use drones in remote locations to collect this information. Apple will need to work with regulators if they are to implement the program more extensively.
In addition to using drones for better data collection, Apple is developing new features for Maps service, including better guidance when switching lanes and views inside of buildings. Apple hopes to create indoor mapping software for navigation through airports, museums, and other large high-traffic buildings. It acquired startup Indoor.io last year to help bring this technology to the market.