As part of its on-going efforts to improve the Maps application offered on its OS X and iOS platforms, Apple has acquired Coherent Navigation, a Bay Area GPS-related firm founded in 2008 by engineers from Stanford and Cornell. The company was started with a focus on pioneering advanced positioning, navigation, timing, and communication (PNT+C) solutions. It delivers these solutions over GPS/GNSS, Iridium, and other satellite signals.
It has developed its commercial navigation services based on partnerships with companies like Boeing and Iridium. For Iridium, the company built a system that combines signals from the traditional mid-earth orbit GPS satellites with those from the low-earth satellites of voice and data provider Iridium to offer greater accuracy and precision, higher signal integrity, and greater jam resistance.
It is safe to assume that the acquisition will contribute towards improving Apple’s own navigation services. In the past 3-4 years, Apple has acquired several companies related to navigation, including – PlaceBase, Poly9, C3 Technologies, WiFiSlam, Locationary, HopStop, Embark, and BroadMap.
That being said, I think this acquisition also suggests that Apple’s interest in developing a car or at the very least an product or service for the automotive sector is more than just speculative. The future of the automotive sector is clearly inching towards autonomous cars. A self-driving car would require extremely accurate GPS in order to navigate safely and Coherent Navigation claims that their navigation services are accurate to the nearest centimeters. This kind of precision would be critical for self-driving cars, where being off by a few feet could be a disaster.
Speaking about self-driving cars, I highly reccomend that you read this article on autonomous cars by Zack Kanter.