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Photo Illustration by Monica Nickelsburg, GeekWire, original photo by Dan Hershman, via Flickr.
(GeekWire Photo Illustration / Monica Nickelsburg; Original Photo Via Flickr / Dan Hershman)

Apple is doubling down on its Maps app, assembling a team of robotics and data-collection experts to quickly update conditions using drones and add new features. And that team will be based in Seattle, according to a report from Bloomberg.

GeekWire found several listings on Apple’s jobs site for software engineers focused on maps in Seattle, as well as one for a GIS analyst. Bloomberg reports that Apple has already hired away at least one person from Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery team to help run its drone projects.

Apple will use drones to document changes to roads, such as construction projects, and increase the speed of map updates. Today, the company uses a fleet of sensor-equipped mini-vans to capture conditions.

Apple is also reportedly working on adding new Maps capabilities, including views from inside buildings and navigation improvements. All these moves are part of an attempt to catch up with maps leader Google.

Apple filed for an exemption with the Federal Aviation Administration last year to fly commercial drones, Bloomberg reports. FAA granted that exemption, Bloomberg reported, but new regulations on drone flights could slow Apple’s mapping ambitions. Among the new rules are restrictions on flying near people. That would seem to preclude most flights within cities, though the FAA has said most of the rules can be waived through an application process “if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.”

Apple launched its Maps app in 2012, but it wasn’t up to snuff out of the gate. Things started so bad that Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly apologized for the app’s shortcomings — including geographical errors, glitchy rendering and a lack of transit maps — saying the company “fell short” on its commitment to deliver the best user experience to its customers. But Apple has quietly improved its Maps app over the years, adding transit mapping in many cities and other features.

Apple has increased its presence in Seattle after quietly opening an engineering center in Seattle in 2014. A year later, Apple inked a lease for two floors in a downtown Seattle office tower with room to grow.

Apple may be getting ready to ramp up its influence here in Seattle. Rumors flew over the summer that Apple was looking for a big chunk of office space, and it made a big acquisition in August, dropping more than $200 million on Seattle-based machine learning company Turi. Following the acquisition, Apple hinted at plans to base its machine learning division in Seattle.

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