Apple spotted driving sensor-equipped vehicles in the Bay Area

San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX has been following a mysterious minivan tooling around Concord, California, with a roof rack fool of advanced sensors. Checking in with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the station found it was registered to Apple.

That led to some immediate speculation that [company]Apple[/company] is now testing its own self-driving vehicle fleet, but that’s probably a bit of a stretch. The Dodge minivan clearly has cameras and what appear to be light detection and ranging sensors, which are commonly know as LIDAR or just “lasers.” That’s pretty standard fare for a mapping vehicle, and Apple after all has its own cartography and navigation software, Apple Maps.

Apple sensor-equipped Minivan spotted by Claycord
Apple sensor-equipped Minivan spotted by Claycord

As an example, here’s a picture of a [company]Nokia [/company]Here mapping vehicle used to record 3D topographical data, which Nokia then loads into its Here app and sells to many, many customers (Nokia actually is the largest provider of mapping data to the vehicle navigation industry).

Nokia Here mapping vehicle

That doesn’t mean Apple isn’t stepping up its game. Apple Maps has been a bit of laughing stock since it first launched, and Apple has been trying to bring the service up to par with [company]Google[/company] Maps and Here. These camera-equipped vehicles might be compiling photographic data for a Street View kind of service, but there are other possibilities. LIDAR data could be used to add to its 3D library of cityscapes, and detailed street level imagery could be used to provide more accurate turn-by-turn directions and hone its map data with information on sidewalks, urban furniture and other minute details of the urban fabric.

Apple is delving much deeper into the car with the launch of CarPlay this year, so you would expect it to launch more iOS features and software that target drivers. And as with all with location apps in the car, your service is only good as the maps it draws upon.