Apple Maps cars use LiDAR, Mac Pro to capture street data

Posted:
in General Discussion
Details of the working practices for drivers of Apple's fleet of mapping vehicles have been revealed, showing how the company's cars capture 3D data for Apple Maps and for training its self-driving vehicle systems, using custom iPads and a Mac Pro.




Cars mapping for Apple Maps have been periodically spotted on the roads, capturing routes and other data about local areas that can be used in Apple's navigational products. In a report describing how the system works, it is revealed that drivers have to abide by quite strict and secretive requirements while capturing the data.

Internal materials provided to 9to5Mac reveal that Apple uses two different types of vehicles as part of the initiative, as part of Apple's 3D Vision team. One is the self-driving Lexus that are used as part of Apple's autonomous driving program for the "Apple Car," codenamed "TycheEach," while another is a modified Subaru Impreza primarily for capturing data, known internally as "Ulysses."

The Subarus are fitted with a tower on the roof containing a combination of high-resolution cameras fitted with Zeiss lenses and LiDAR scanners, with data processed in real time via an onboard 2013 Mac Pro. A modified iPad referred to as the EyeDrive unit controls capture, as well as instructing operators on their tasks.

The EyeDrive app is used to say where the driver has to travel in the vehicle, while a secondary operator checks captured images and data for quality and marking if a street cannot be accessed. A mountain of data is captured by the system, with it filling a collection of four SSDs measuring 4 terabytes each per week.

The teams are under strict instructions to start capturing data at times of day when the sun is at, or above 30 degrees from the horizon, as the sun could interfere with the LiDAR sensors at shallow angles. Captures also must be performed under ideal weather conditions, so that the captured images are consistent with previous versions.

To ensure a level of privacy for the operation, the cars are stored at specific safe locations that it does not reveal. The secrecy behind the locations extends to building owners, who end up renting properties to an Apple-owned front company.

Images captured are used for a number of purposes, such as to train self-driving vehicle software how to read and interpret the road. For consumers, the same data is used to power features such as Flyover and Look Around.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,775member
    Nice that they are actually capturing data in the UK, but it's been so long since they started the data's going to be out of date by the time it finally becomes available... Not sure how a $2tn company can be so slow at mapping when Google has had it done for many years, and in many cases with several updates since introduction. Or maybe it's just because the ideal weather conditions are so rare here ;) 
    edited September 2020 caladanian
  • Reply 2 of 11
    elijahg said:
    Nice that they are actually capturing data in the UK, but it's been so long since they started the data's going to be out of date by the time it finally becomes available... Not sure how a $2tn company can be so slow at mapping when Google has had it done for many years, and in many cases with several updates since introduction. Or maybe it's just because the ideal weather conditions are so rare here ;) 
    I noticed the new map in UK a couple weeks ago it's pretty good lots of missing roads have been added and lots of paths too and it looks really nice, more colourful and the golf course holes are a nice touch.

    Old Map



    New Map


    edited September 2020 caladanianwatto_cobradoozydozen
  • Reply 3 of 11
    elijahg said:
    Nice that they are actually capturing data in the UK, but it's been so long since they started the data's going to be out of date by the time it finally becomes available... Not sure how a $2tn company can be so slow at mapping when Google has had it done for many years, and in many cases with several updates since introduction. Or maybe it's just because the ideal weather conditions are so rare here ;) 
    There is likely a difference between general mapmaking and Look Around. The cars drove around my city years ago, we don’t have Look Around but we do have the new & improved maps. So this is definitely at least two versions of city maps, not just one. 
    watto_cobradoozydozen
  • Reply 4 of 11
    I saw the Apple Maps car in my tiny (population ~3,000) town in Alaska a few weeks ago, which was a pretty cool sight to see. Washington State license plate. What a drive. (For reference, it takes several days just to drive from Washington—our nearest US neighbor—to Alaska, under the best conditions, and without needing to travel down *every single road while the sun is at 30° in the sky*)
    watto_cobradoozydozen
  • Reply 5 of 11
    flydogflydog Posts: 1,127member
    elijahg said:
    Nice that they are actually capturing data in the UK, but it's been so long since they started the data's going to be out of date by the time it finally becomes available... Not sure how a $2tn company can be so slow at mapping when Google has had it done for many years, and in many cases with several updates since introduction. Or maybe it's just because the ideal weather conditions are so rare here ;) 
    Where in the article does it state that the collected data is not being used in currents maps?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 11
    In the US, Apple's current generation collection fleet has already captured a pretty nice dataset for the new maps. The company I work for was one of the first to use this technology in the US, starting in 2007, doing 3D asset extraction and digital terrain modeling (DTM) for state DOT's across the country.  We collect over 100 thousand miles per year and our team sees the Apple Vehicles all of the time. We keep track of when we cross paths with anybody who does this kind of work. They show up in our images and we show up in theirs as well.  

    The angles they have chosen for the three HDL-32 LiDAR heads creates a very dense point cloud that, when combined with the photogrammetric imagery, can be rendered into incredibly precise object identification and localization. Beyond just the standard map, the data can be used to create autonomous driving HD maps, digital twins for simulation, and a highly accurate foundation for the use of augmented reality in the real world. 

    We can continue to speculate as to what Apple's intent is. From my position in this industry, the data that they are compiling has incredible potential. We would stop collecting on our own if we could get full access to it to do our DOT projects. My guess is that they have something pretty special that they are working on and we are going to have to be a little patient until they are ready to show us.
    fastasleepRayz2016caladanianwatto_cobrah4y3smuthuk_vanalingamelijahgdoozydozen
  • Reply 7 of 11
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    In the US, Apple's current generation collection fleet has already captured a pretty nice dataset for the new maps. The company I work for was one of the first to use this technology in the US, starting in 2007, doing 3D asset extraction and digital terrain modeling (DTM) for state DOT's across the country.  We collect over 100 thousand miles per year and our team sees the Apple Vehicles all of the time. We keep track of when we cross paths with anybody who does this kind of work. They show up in our images and we show up in theirs as well.  

    The angles they have chosen for the three HDL-32 LiDAR heads creates a very dense point cloud that, when combined with the photogrammetric imagery, can be rendered into incredibly precise object identification and localization. Beyond just the standard map, the data can be used to create autonomous driving HD maps, digital twins for simulation, and a highly accurate foundation for the use of augmented reality in the real world. 

    We can continue to speculate as to what Apple's intent is. From my position in this industry, the data that they are compiling has incredible potential. We would stop collecting on our own if we could get full access to it to do our DOT projects. My guess is that they have something pretty special that they are working on and we are going to have to be a little patient until they are ready to show us.
    Always nice to hear from someone who with some insight. Thanks for dropping by. 
    watto_cobramuthuk_vanalingamdoozydozen
  • Reply 8 of 11
    Cool that the 2013 Mac Pro is making a contribution 
    doozydozen
  • Reply 9 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,775member
    elijahg said:
    Nice that they are actually capturing data in the UK, but it's been so long since they started the data's going to be out of date by the time it finally becomes available... Not sure how a $2tn company can be so slow at mapping when Google has had it done for many years, and in many cases with several updates since introduction. Or maybe it's just because the ideal weather conditions are so rare here ;) 
    I noticed the new map in UK a couple weeks ago it's pretty good lots of missing roads have been added and lots of paths too and it looks really nice, more colourful and the golf course holes are a nice touch.

    Old Map



    New Map


    I'm getting the new maps on Big Sur too, I'm liking the extra detail apart from a footpath going right down my driveway, past the front door, down the garden, across our private bridge to meet up with a public footpath 300m from here. Other than that and missing some footpaths it seems pretty good. No idea how they came up with that path, maybe it's because I go that way frequently? No idea, it's not on any other map.

    My contention over their sluggishness though was about look around rather than the mapping itself. Obviously this data is used to improve the maps but look around in more than a select few cities in the US would be nice.
  • Reply 10 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,775member

    elijahg said:
    Nice that they are actually capturing data in the UK, but it's been so long since they started the data's going to be out of date by the time it finally becomes available... Not sure how a $2tn company can be so slow at mapping when Google has had it done for many years, and in many cases with several updates since introduction. Or maybe it's just because the ideal weather conditions are so rare here ;) 
    There is likely a difference between general mapmaking and Look Around. The cars drove around my city years ago, we don’t have Look Around but we do have the new & improved maps. So this is definitely at least two versions of city maps, not just one. 
    You could be right but it would make a lot of sense to gather the info for both at once. Why drive an entire country twice when the data could be collected in one go? I'd imagine it's much more difficult and requires many man-hours to improve the maps, but the look around imagery would be pretty much automated I'd wager.
  • Reply 11 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,775member

    flydog said:
    elijahg said:
    Nice that they are actually capturing data in the UK, but it's been so long since they started the data's going to be out of date by the time it finally becomes available... Not sure how a $2tn company can be so slow at mapping when Google has had it done for many years, and in many cases with several updates since introduction. Or maybe it's just because the ideal weather conditions are so rare here ;) 
    Where in the article does it state that the collected data is not being used in currents maps?
    It doesn't, I was referring to look around really, though there are plenty of places here in the UK where Apple Maps is missing roundabouts and tries to take you up a one way street the wrong way, even ones that've been one way for years.
Sign In or Register to comment.