Apple MapsSource: iMore

What you need to know

  • A new report details how Apple creates its map.
  • The company uses both manned and self-driving vehicles.
  • It also outfits each vehicle with LiDAR, a Mac Pro, and proprietary EyeDrive software.

According to a report by 9to5Mac, the outlet has learned exclusive details about how Apple's Maps team uses manned vehicles to create its newest map and the features that come along with it.

The company currently uses a white Subaru Impreza, codenamed "Ulysses," that is outfitted with LiDAR scanners, a Mac Pro, and the EyeDrive hardware and software that powers the entire setup.

The car is modified with dozens of hardware parts, including a tower at the top of the vehicle with advanced high-resolution cameras and Zeiss lenses, LiDAR scanners, and a 2013 Mac Pro that processes all captured data in real-time. Everything is controlled by the EyeDrive unit, which is a modified iPad with the EyeDrive app that provides the assignments to be done and also allows operators to manage captured data.

Apple also uses a self-driving Lexus with the code name "Tyche", a car that is reportedly part of the company's autonomous driving efforts.

The vehicles are also equipped with 4 SSDs of 4TB each, which are filled up in about a week of work, and Apple relies on UPS overnight delivery to replace these SSDs as quickly as possible. The other type of car is a self-driving Lexus used for Apple's autonomous vehicle efforts, which has the code name "Tyche." Each modified vehicle has its own version of the EyeDrive app as you see below:

Each Subaru is manned by two, one to drive and one to operate the EyeDrive system. The team has a specific window to capture the data needed to build the map and other features, as the LiDAR will not work correctly at night.

The team must start the capture in the morning when the sun is at 30 degrees and drive until when it's reaching 30 degrees at night, otherwise the sun interferes with how the LiDAR sensors work. Apple also requires that captures must be taken in perfect weather conditions in order to provide consistent images. Each car is carefully inspected before field work to ensure that all equipment is working as expected.

The EyeDrive is preloaded with a route that the team needs to drive, but those in the vehicle can report if there are issues with capturing the planned data of the day.

Once they're on the road, the EyeDrive app on iPad tells the team where they should drive to capture data. The operator can check the images through the iPad in real-time and confirm if the capture looks good or if it has any issues. The streets where the car is driven are marked with a green outline, and the operator can mark if a specific street cannot be accessed either because it's a private area or a road under construction.

According to the report, the data collected by these two vehicle types is what the company uses to build out map features like FlyOver, Look Around, and 3D imagery. Apple Maps just recently rolled out 3D in Amsterdam as well as transit information in Lisbon.