Apple’s mystery vans are making 3D road maps for Apple Car

“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


  1. hmmm,

    this opens up an interesting angle on the self driving automobile… how on earth can apple, or google or any other organization hope to keep up on changes in roads, signage, traffic signals, temporary re-routes and detours etc over broad areas (say a state, or several, rather than a city – which would likely be challenge enough)

    and what what kind of liability issues might arise since presumably the safety of the self driving auto will be quite dependent on keeping that data current.

    i wonder if this could potentially turn into a real can of worms.

    1. I would assume that a self driving vehicle would need sensors much like those on these mapping cars in order to ‘see’ where it really is and to detect if there are any unexpected obstacles around ( other cars, people, roadworks etc ).

      Therefore the cars themselves should be able to send current data back to Apple and if a particular unexpected object is seen by multiple cars over a certain period, then it can be assumed to be a significant change ( and if multiple cars later report that it’s not there any more, it can be assumed to have been a temporary thing, such as roadworks and deleted ).

      My guess is that the cars could be regarded as autonomous where there is sufficiently detailed mapping available, however when driven manually, they would automatically map those areas and a crowdsourcing collection of data would fill in the blanks over time so that when people have manually driven over a route sufficiently to enable the mapping data to be gathered, it could declare that route suitable for autonomous driving.

  2. No news here. We have known this for over 4 years already that this is the next step after Apple bought this company:

    This is the ultimate VR 3D maps of the world. Can you imagine the situation that Apple Car knows where it is exactly by the millimeter.

    This will beat the Trump out of the Google Street View. That will look rediculously old dated like Trumps toupe.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.