A handful of unmarked minivans have been spotted driving around California over the past several days with what appears to be roof-mounted camera equipment. No one seems to know what the vehicles are up to, but CBS’ Bay Area affiliate was able to confirm with the DMV that at least one of the vans is leased to Apple.
More specifically, the minivans feature custom X-shaped frames atop their luggage racks, fitted with what appears to be 12 cameras. It also has a pair of cylindrical antennas, which the news outlet speculates could be LiDAR sensors—a laser-based technology used in self-driving vehicles, as well as high-resolution mapping.
So does this mean Apple is working on self-driving cars? Probably not. Apple does not have the necessary permits to test driverless vehicles in the state of California. The more likely scenario is that these are mapping cars, similar to Google’s Street View cars, sent out to capture street-level photos for Apple’s mapping software.
Apple has in recent months shown interest in taking its 2-year-old Maps app to the next level. In November, a job listing was discovered hinting that the company is in the process of bringing the app to the web, and it also launched a new Maps Connect portal, which allows businesses to manage their listings within Maps.