Apple Van Spotted Across US; Mapping Project Suspected

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Looks like Apple Maps is going to get an update in the not-too-distant future

People all across the country have recently spotted an unusual van loaded with rooftop equipment slowly cruising through both neighborhoods and business districts. In every case, the vehicles have been Dodge Caravans with large roof-mounted equipment arrays. Experts say the vans are apparently loaded with camera equipment, LiDAR sensors and GPS antennas.

After a little records sleuthing, media sources have determined that the mystery vans belong to Apple, but just exactly what is an Apple van doing in San Francisco, Honolulu, Madison and Coral Cables, Florida among other locations?

After an initial media buzz that the Apple vans were a new self-driving concept car, it seems that is pretty much out of the question, so company watchers are now saying the Apple van you seeing Sunday driving around your home town is very likely participating in a mapping project a la Google Maps Street View.

The apple van is not self-driving

Despite many rumors to the contrary, the Apple van is not a new self-driving concept car. There is a driver behind the wheel and tinted windows of every Apple mystery van.

For starters, self-driving cars are still in their infancy, and any street testing is still bound to be very limited. There’s no reason for Apple (or any other company for that matter) to test new models of self-driving cars at multiple geographic locations at this stage in the development process.

Second, as 9to5Mac and other media outlets have noted, only six companies have permits to test self-driving cars in California, and Apple isn’t one of these firms.

Third, as Sam Oliver of AppleInsider points out, a Dodge Caravan seems like a very odd choice for a firm trying to develop “futuristic robotics systems.” Oliver also notes the vehicle’s camera seems to have blind spots, which simply wouldn’t work for a self-driving vehicle.

Apple’s version of Google’s Street View?

Rumors have been swirling for quite some time that the iPhone maker was looking to upgrade its maps function to better compete with Google, and it looks like maybe the project is actually well underway.

That means the most likely explanation for the Apple van loaded with equipment you see driving around your neighborhood is that it is part of a plan to develop some kind of street-level mapping for Apple Maps.

Several sources have suggested that perhaps the vans crossing the country are part of the company’s effort to upgrade its maps system with a version of Google’s Street View or some related type of enhanced 3D mapping. In either case, we are not likely to see the results of this effort anytime soon. It will likely take at least several years and hundreds of additional Apple van sightings before the firm has enough useful data to roll out any major improvement for Apple Maps.

Recent Apple van spottings

Just in the past week, AppleInsider noted that locals had reported Apple vans in San Jose, near San Francisco Bay,  Doral, Florida and on the Big Island of Hawaii. These sightings add to earlier sightings in Madison, Wisconsin, Coral Springs, Florida, Richmond, California, New York City and Panama City, Panama.

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