Upgraded Apple Maps backpack rig uses iPhone 11 Pro for image capture

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Have you seen one of these guys walking around your city with an upgraded Apple Maps backpack with iPhone 11 Pros?
Have you seen one of these guys walking around your city?
Photo: Cult of Mac

Cult of Mac spotted an Apple employee wearing an updated data-gathering backpack powered by iPhone 11 Pros on Thursday in Silicon Valley. The wearable rig, presumably used to collect images and data for Apple Maps, looks similar to one seen in 2018. But it features a new hardshell cover — and at least three of Apple’s latest iPhones, apparently used to capture images from the backpack’s sides.

Take a look at how it compares to the old setup:

How many differences can you spot between the old Apple Maps backup and the new one?
How many differences can you spot between the old version (left) and the new, hard-cover one?
Photo: Cult of Mac/Dante Cesa

The worker with the new Apple Maps backpack was seen in Palo Alto, California, at the intersection of University Avenue and Ramona Street, by the Hookah Nites Lounge. Adding the iPhone 11 Pros to the rig gives Apple the option to take three photos (or videos) of each view, using three different lenses from each angle. Three LiDAR sensors sit atop the backpack, with what’s probably a positioning system on a pole above them.

Look Around, Apple’s answer to Street View

Apple hasn’t commented on the Apple Maps backpacks publicly. However, they could be used to gather data for the Look Around feature added to Apple Maps in iOS 13. Apple’s answer to Google’s Street View, the feature gives users a pristine view of the street-level environment at certain locations.

Apple continues to spend billions upgrading its Maps service, which got off to a rocky start in 2012. The Look Around feature works surprisingly well, but is currently only available in certain regions.

“Maps offers interactive street-level imagery with high-resolution, 3D photography and smooth and seamless transitions through major cities with Look Around,” Apple said when it rolled out an upgraded version of the mapping service last month. “Customers from anywhere in the world can navigate through New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston and Oahu, with many more places to come.”

Apple Maps backpack for Look Around data?

The first Apple Maps backpack came to light in the fall of 2018, about nine months before Apple introduced Look Around. The original backpack consisted of a soft shell with various sensors attached. Apple deployed a hardshell version a few months later, adding more protection from the elements.

Apple could be testing the new backpack in its backyard before using it in other locations across the globe. The three-iPhone camera rig also might capture data for indoor mapping.

It remains unclear what Apple is hiding inside the hardshell cover. However, the sensor-laden rig must be battery-operated and include a processor of some type. Hopefully, it also contains a hydration bladder for workers who lug it around city streets.