A number of dark, camera-equipped minivans have been spotted on the streets in the Bay Area, and at least one of the vans can be tracked back to Apple.
The minivans are equipped with an X-shaped frame mounted on the luggage rack, with housings at each corner that appear to contain cameras. San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX confirmed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles that a blue Dodge Caravan spotted with the equipment was indeed leased to Apple.
Bay Area blog Claycord posted photos of the Dodge Caravan on Tuesday.
In a addition to the cameras, the van is also rigged with a spinning cylindrical devices on the front and rear, which resemble LiDAR sensors. LiDar is the laser-based technology used to create high-resolution maps and is also used in the sensor systems included on self-driving vehicles, such as those being developed by Google.
Analyst Rob Enderle told KPIX that he believes the vehicles are self-driving cars. Apple has not been granted a testing permits for any such vehicles, however Enderle says the company could have a partnership with a manufacturer that has such permits, allowing them to test the technology without having a permit under their own name.
Another possibility is that Apple is gearing up for a street-level mapping program similar to Google’s Street View, or Bing StreetSide. Apple is working on significantly improving its Maps app, and a street level view would bring the apps features closer to being on par with competitor’s products.
Enderle’s reasoning behind his belief that the vehicles are self-driving cars instead of mapping vehicles: “Too many cameras,” said Enderle. “It has cameras that are angled down at all four corners of the vehicle.”
The Apple vehicle resembles a self-driving Dodge Caravan sporting California plates that was spotted in the Brooklyn, NY area in September 2014.
The Apple minivan appears to sport camera technology similar to that of Google’s Street View cars, which use a ring of fifteen 5-megapixel cameras to stitch together its images.
An Apple spokesperson gave KPIX the standard company reply of, “No comment.”