Apple is reportedly planning to use drones to improve its maps

Tired of trailing behind Google, Apple is reportedly planning to greatly improve its maps by utilizing drones.

According to people "familiar with the matter" speaking to Bloomberg, Apple is been busy putting together a team of robotics and data-collection experts - including at least one person from Amazon’s Prime Air division.

This team, with the use of drones, will be able to update map information much faster than Apple is currently able to.

Considering the Cupertino-based firm is, just like competitor Google, currently uses minivans and cars kitted out with cameras and sensors to capture and update its data, using fast and light drones to do the work would be much quicker. 

It also means Apple would be able to provide more up-to-date information as it could easily deploy drones to monitor things like roadworks, changes to street signs or buildings, and traffic conditions.

Aim high

When Apple launched its Maps app in 2012, it was widely criticized for its inaccurate data. Since then the company has made massive efforts to improve the quality of its maps.

The use of drones will simply take it another step forward by giving it access to more accurate and fresh data.

One problem Apple is likely to face though is the FAA’s restrictions on drone flying in the US. 

Bloomberg reports that Apple was granted permission to “operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct data collection, photography, and videography“ in March of this year. 

However, current rules still mean that Apple can’t fly its drones over people and buildings which does significantly limit the usefulness of the data Apple will be able to collect using its drones. 

That said, the company can always begin using its drone technology to improve its maps in countries which have fewer restrictions on drone operation. 

Familiar features

Apple isn’t just looking to improve its outdoor maps, either. Apparently the company is also working on an inside view feature that will allow users to navigate through large and often confusing public buildings such as museums and airports. 

This is a feature that’s already offered by Google Maps but it will be interesting to see if, and how Apple would be able to improve upon it, particularly since it went to the effort to acquire startup last year to help build it. 

There are also plans to improve car navigation by providing better guidance for changing lanes. This is timely considering Google has just updated its iOS maps service to introduce features that will prove extremely useful to drivers. 

The fact that Apple is still adding features that Google Maps has already had for a while shows that it’s still playing catch up in some areas. H

However, considering the quick collection of accurate data is one of the most important basics of creating a good digital map, Apple’s use of drones could give it the boost it needs to be on par with Google.  

Both indoor maps and improved driver assistance are features that are planned for release next year, though no solid date has been set yet. When we'll see Apple drones soaring over our heads is even less certain. 

Emma Boyle

Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.