“Some new data-gathering vehicles are roaming the streets of San Francisco. They’re unmarked, but are suspected to be Apple’s,” Leander Kahney reports for Cult of Mac. “They are laden with sensors, but what kind of data are they gathering, and what for?”

“Experts contacted by Cult of Mac say the mystery vans are next-generation mapping vehicles capable of capturing VR-style, 360-degree street photos,” Kahney reports. “Plus, the vans use Lidar to create extraordinarily precise “point clouds,” a prerequisite for self-driving cars. Mesh those two databases together and you’ve laid the groundwork for an autonomous vehicle’s navigation system.”

Apple mystery van in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Apple mystery van in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in 2015

“Ryan Eustice, associate professor at the University of Michigan’s Perceptual Robotics Lab, said the combination of sensors on the vans points to a mapping vehicle,” Kahney reports. “The vehicle’s cameras, Velodyne Lidar sensors, wheel encoder and GPS all point to mapping.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Of course, Apple’s Maps app likely also benefits.

Last year, a MacDailyNews reader spotted and photographed another Apple mystery van, with the telltale GPS and camera contraption atop, in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the The Island of Hawai’i (Big Island). More photos here.

Apple mystery van spotted in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park – February 20, 2015
Video reveals close-up look of Apple’s mystery van project – February 17, 2015
Apple mystery van spotted in San Diego – February 10, 2015
Apple testing mysterious camera-equipped vehicles – February 4, 2015
U.S. patent application reveals Apple is working on ‘Street View’ mapping technology – April 4, 2013