Massive Apple Maps Hiring Spree Hints at AR, Autonomous Vehicle Ambitions

Apple is looking to significantly expand its maps team by hiring several dozen new experts, reportedly in an effort to make a greater push into augmented reality and self-driving vehicle tech.

In the past month, more than 70 job listings have gone live on the company’s website — all of which relate to Apple’s maps division. The postings list required skills such as “geospatial information services,” “navigational aids” and “fleet management.” It’s worth noting that such a hiring spree is fairly unusual, even for a tech giant like Apple. It’s even more atypical since all of the job listings are focused on one discipline, according to CNBC.

Presumably, the new talent will improve Apple’s proprietary Maps platform and could help make the application much more competitive with Google Maps. But it’s likely that the hires will also help Apple improve its AR and autonomous driving endeavors. Generally speaking, augmented reality platforms rely on precise location data to be accurate. And, of course, self-driving car technology also relies heavily on geographical mapping systems.

Cupertino’s AR initiatives are well-known enough at this point. During its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple announced ARKit, a development toolset that, at launch, will likely turn iOS into the largest AR-capable platform anywhere. That’s something that could give iOS a serious advantage against the Google-made Android operating system, the current most popular mobile OS worldwide and iOS’s largest competitor.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been vocal about AR’s potential, and Cupertino reportedly has a large team working on the technology. In a recent interview, Cook said that augmented reality tech could make smartphones an even more important part of daily life. “With things like AR … I think it becomes even more essential than it currently is,” he told CNBC’s Josh Lipton on Tuesday.

Additionally, there are a variety of long-standing rumors that Apple is working on a standalone augmented or virtual reality headset, spectacles or other device. We first heard word that Apple was exploring such a headset last year, and its existence has only been corroborated further since then. Apple has the tech and the patents to back it up, too.

Beyond AR, improving Apple Maps’ capabilities could also help Apple deliver on its promise of developing “core technology” for autonomous driving systems. The fact that some of the maps-related job postings indicate “fleet management” as a skill requirement also backs up this idea. In April, Apple was granted permission to begin testing its self-driving car tech on California roads. And in June, the company partnered with Hertz to lease a fleet of Lexus SUVs for autonomous system testing.

During Tuesday’s earnings call, Cook doubled down on Apple’s focus on autonomous systems — and added that its usefulness extends beyond self-driving cars. “We do have a large project going and are making a big investment in this …” he told investors. “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 than that.”

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