Apple linked to mysterious street-mapping minivan

February 4, 2015, 2:09 PM UTC
Photograph by Claycord

I’ve long admired the foresight and chutzpah Google showed when it began driving camera-equipped cars up and down the streets of the world photographing every building on either side. The result — Street View, covering at last count 370,000 miles in 58 countries — improves the accuracy of Google Maps and is one of the reasons it’s the world’s most popular mobile app.

I have never seen any evidence that Apple, which dropped Google’s mapping data in 2012 for its own, was willing to make a similar effort.

Until now.

According to information the California Department of Motor Vehicles gave San Francisco’s CBS affiliate Tuesday, the mysterious van pictured above is registered to a fleet company and leased by Apple.

This van, or vans like it, bristling with cameras and what look like spinning LiDAR sensors, have been spotted in recent days driving around the East Bay towns of Clayton and Concord.

Moreover, requests for information posted on, a local news site, turned up the YouTube video below. It shows a similarly tricked-out van, white with California plates, driving around Brooklyn last September.


Is Apple creating its own, proprietary street view database?

KPIX TV, the local CBS affiliate, has been pursuing a different theory. Veteran Apple watchers will get a kick out of Rob Enderle — who has made a career out of being wrong about Apple — confidently telling a KPIX reporter that the van is driving itself.

Color me as skeptical. As AppleInsider and 9to5Mac point out, only six companies have permits to test self-driving cars, and Apple isn’t one of them.

The KPIX report:

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple AAPL coverage at or subscribe via his RSS feed.

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