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Apple is using Subaru Imprezas with old garbage-can Mac Pros to map the US

Each vehicle is equipped with four, 4TB SSDs.

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An Apple maps car makes its way through Cambrai, France, July 9, 2020. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Pascal Rossignol / reuters

Early this year, Apple officially finished rebuilding Apple Maps in the US. Still, it’s constantly improving its map data and map-based features. Today, 9to5Mac shared some exclusive details about how Apple operates its mapping vehicles and how it manages the data they capture.

According to internal materials seen by 9to5Mac, Apple’s 3D Vision team cruises around in a fleet of white Subaru Imprezas. The vehicles are equipped with high-res cameras and LiDAR scanners that combine computer vision and machine learning data to generate 3D images on Apple Maps. All of that data is processed by a 2013 Mac Pro and stored in four SSDs with 4TB of storage each. Those can hold up to about a week of mapping data, and Apple uses UPS to ship the SSDs back to its offices.

Typically, one person drives the car while the other operates the EyeDrive system -- an iPad equipped with the EyeDrive app, which provides routes and driving instructions. The vehicles must be driven in perfect weather conditions, and they must start capturing in the morning when the sun is at 30 degrees and drive until dusk when the sun returns to 30 degrees.

According to 9to50Mac, the data is primarily being used for features like Flyover and Look Around. The vehicles are mostly seen in the US, but Apple is allegedly expanding them to Canada, Europe and Japan.

Apple Maps is still fighting its reputation as an internet punchline. In 2018, it promised to fix its Maps by using its own data, and we’ve seen it put in the necessary leg work. Since Apple finished rebuilding its Map data, it has rolled out useful features. It now shows COVID-19 testing sites and is using Map data to help public health officials. Plus, it now prioritizes grocery, food delivery and medical searches.

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