According to Bloomberg, Apple is amassing a flock of sensor-equipped drones to buzz around cities, checking street signs, road changes, and construction projects. The intel would be used to provide near-instant updates to Apple Maps.
Apple already got a special exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones commercially, enabling them to "operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct data collection, photography, and videography." But now they must also comply with new rules passed in August requiring operators to have a pilot’s license, fly during daylight hours, and always keep the drone in sight.
Jamie Condliffe at MIT Technology Review speculates that this new drone-mapping initiative is part of Apple’s grand plan to get into the self-driving car business, arguing that drones would be able to provide highly valuable 3D scans of terrain to help navigate autonomous vehicles.
Uber is already purportedly working on beefing up their own mapping system with a fleet of camera-topped cars in Mexico. Stay tuned, the competition is stiff.