Mysterious Camera-Equipped Apple Vehicle Spotted in California

Apple van california

Mysterious Dodge minivans have started appearing around California during the past few weeks. These vehicles are equipped with a complex camera rig mounted on the top, and one of them is leased to Apple, prompting speculation about Apple’s future plans: Is Apple testing a driverless car, or is it maybe improving its mapping service with street-level imagery? (via AppleInsider)

The equipment visible on the top of the Dodge Caravan appears to include the same LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) camera system spotted in Brooklyn last September. If you look at the video inserted below, you’ll find many similarities.

YouTube video

LiDAR is a laser-based technology used in mapping, with the basic components being a laser scanner, a GPS system, and an Inertial Navigation System (INS). What this technology does is to measure the distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light. The technology was used by Google, Nokia, and TomTom to create their mapping services.

Speaking with KPIX, analyst Rob Enderle speculates that the cars are in fact self-driving cars – given the LiDAR technology’s ability to automatically apply brakes on a car – but this seems unlikely, because Apple isn’t one of the six companies with a testing permit for those purposes.

Apple has been heavily criticised for its mapping service, while Google’s better accuracy was said to be due to street-level imagery. What seems a plausible explanation is that Apple is trying to improve its Maps with street-level images.

Image credit: Claylord