Apple reportedly hiring dozens of new mapping experts and engineers

Apple Maps could be the beneficiary of the company’s push into augmented reality and ‘autonomous systems.’

According to a CNBC report, Apple is on a hiring spree. The company is seeking to add scores of mapping experts and engineers. According to the report:

More than 70 job listings went live in the past month on the company’s site relating to its maps team, or requiring skills around things like: “geospatial information services,” “navigational aids” and “fleet management.”

Apple Maps, which has quietly been improving over time, still suffers from a less-than-stellar reputation from its botched launch in 2012. However, the new hires will be supporting initiatives around augmented reality and “autonomous systems.”

Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook said about both topics during this week’s earnings call.

On augmented reality: 

One of the most exciting and most promising announcements from WWDC was the introduction of ARKit, a new set of tools for developers to create augmented reality apps. It’s still early in the beta period, but it’s clear that ARKit has captured the imagination of our developer community . . .

We believe AR has broad mainstream applicability across education, entertainment, interactive gaming, enterprise, and categories we probably haven’t even thought of. With hundreds of millions of people actively using iPhone and iPad today, iOS will become the world’s biggest augmented reality platform as soon as iOS 11 ships.

On autonomous systems: 

In terms of autonomous systems, what we’ve said is that we are very focused on autonomous systems from a core technology point of view. We do have a large project going and are making a big investment in this. From our point of view, autonomy is the mother of all AI projects. And the autonomous systems can be used in a variety of ways and a vehicle is only one. But there are many different areas of it and I don’t want to go any further with that.

Autonomous vehicles require a top-tier mapping and navigation capability — for obvious reasons. Getting directions or turns wrong could result in liability or tragedy. Augmented reality layers imagery or virtual objects on top of the physical world, as seen through a smartphone camera lens or other hardware device.

Pokémon Go (and Ingress), from former Google Maps Chief John Hanke’s Niantic, and Snapchat Lenses are early successful examples of augmented reality. For advanced augmented reality experiences in the physical world, the system needs to know with precision where the user is to add virtual objects. Ingress used Google Maps and user location to do this in a gaming context.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft have also announced augmented reality initiatives, with Google and Microsoft pushing out products already. Microsoft’s Hololens “mixed reality” googles is a powerful example of the potential for this technology. Google Lens visual search is another.

When iOS 11 is given a general release later this fall we’ll see whether Cook’s prediction comes true about the mainstreaming of augmented reality. Regardless, if Apple does hire all these mapping professionals to support augmented reality and “autonomous systems,” Apple Maps should be the better for it.

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