A number of minivans have been spotted in the San Francisco area, and are believed to be from Apple. What makes these vehicles rather interesting is the equipment mounted on the racks, which appear to house cameras and LiDAR sensors (one on the front, another on the rear). It's reported that Apple is looking to improve its mapping service. According to Apple Insider:
The number of cameras on the minivan — there appears to be at least 12 — seems to be a high number for a mapping vehicle, but Google's latest-generation Street View cars use a ring of 15 5-megapixel CMOS sensors. Aside from the physical configuration, the equipment on the Apple-registered van appears to be broadly similar to the technology fitted to a Street View car.
Some, including tech analyst Rob Enderle, believe the vehicles to be part of a self-driving program, but Apple doesn't have the necessary permits in its possession, bringing us back to its mapping platform.
LiDAR technology is also utilized by both Google, as well as Nokia for its HERE maps platform. Our friends over on Windows Central previously took a tour of Nokia's fleet of vehicles, which also sported similar equipment. Should the reports be accurate and Apple is indeed absorbing huge amounts of data for its mapping platform, we could well be witnessing the potential birth of Apple Street View.