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

Details of work practices for drivers of Apple’s fleet of mapping cars have been revealed, showing how the company’s cars capture 3D data for Apple Maps and for training its self-propelled vehicle systems using custom iPads and Mac Pros.

Cars mapped for Apple Maps have been periodically spotted on the roads, capturing routes and other local area data that can be used in Apple navigation products. A report describing how the system works reveals that drivers must comply with fairly strict and secret requirements while capturing data.

Internal materials delivered to 9to5Mac reveal that Apple uses two different types of vehicles as part of the initiative, as part of Apple̵

7;s 3D Vision team. One is the self-driving Lexus used as part of Apple’s autonomous “Car Car” driving program, codenamed “TycheEach”, while another is a modified Subaru Impreza primarily for capturing data, known internally as “Ulysses.”

Subarus is equipped with a rooftop tower that contains a combination of high-resolution cameras equipped with Zeiss lenses and LiDAR scanners, with data processed in real time via a built-in 2013 Mac Pro. A modified iPad referred to as the EyeDrive controls control, as well as instructs operators on the tasks.

The EyeDrive app is used to tell where the driver needs to travel in the vehicle, while a secondary operator checks captured images and data for quality and marking if a street is not available. A mountain of data is captured by the system, and it fills a collection of four SSDs measuring 4 terabytes each per week.

The teams are under strict instructions to start collecting data at times of the day when the sun is on, or above 30 degrees from the horizon, as the sun can disturb the LiDAR sensors at shallow angles. Shooting must also be performed under ideal weather conditions so that the images taken are in accordance with previous versions.

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

Pictures taken are used for a variety of purposes, such as training self-driving software how to read and interpret the road. For consumers, the same data is used to power features such as Flyover and Look Around.

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