High-res photos reveal mysterious Apple van's equipment package

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2015
A pair of high-resolution photographs acquired by AppleInsider on Wednesday show close-up views of a van thought to be part of a secret Apple initiative, including a highly detailed look at what are believed to be GPS, camera and other roof-mounted instrumentation.


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The photos, sent in by AppleInsider reader Jason, were captured in a parking lot in Richmond, Calif., an area located at the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area and just a few miles north of Apple's campus in Cupertino.

Like other vans attributed to Apple's secret program, the vehicle caught on camera appears to be a stock Dodge Caravan with California license plates and an unusual array of equipment mounted to its roof. A report earlier in February hypothesized that the array includes at least six cameras, dual LiDAR sensors, a pair of GPS antennas and a wheel encoder.

As noted previously, the technology package suggests Apple is working on an advanced mapping initiative similar to Google's Street View, not a self-driving electric vehicle.

Today's images are just the latest in a quickly growing pile of photographic and video evidence surrounding Apple's mysterious project. On Monday, AppleInsider received a short video showing one of the minivans at work on the road. In the clip, a two-man crew can be seen operating the testbed, one piloting the car while the other interacts with a small tablet or phablet.


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Apple has yet to comment on the matter, but early speculation pointed to autonomous vehicles and an electric car product. A more reasonable explanation, however, is that Apple is working to expand its in-house mapping technology with street level imaging.

The first of Apple's vans were first spotted in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this month, with subsequent sightings in New York, Hawaii, Wisconsin and Panama.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 51

    Opinion seems to be crystallising on the car as a mapping vehicle only.

     

    That seems fair to me. However, what about these 1,000 people Apple have supposedly put on a secret project? Where do they stand? Not just CarPlay, surely.

  • Reply 2 of 51
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,471member
    I always thought it was street mapping. We will have to wait and see but knee jerk reactions assuming it proves self drive cars seem a bit silly.
  • Reply 3 of 51
    Still odd to me how the spinning sensors on the front and back tilt down that far. Wouldn't expect a sensor staring at the road would help for mapping.

    Regardless there is still a 99% chance this is just for mapping, probably higher.
  • Reply 4 of 51

    Most electric cars do not have tailpipes.

  • Reply 5 of 51
    The speculations that Apple was working on an electric car (or any car for that matter) was as absurd as UFO sightings.

    I can never understand why such speculative drivel is reported in the first place, and even worse, allowed to expand over a week of time.

    As Mark Twain said: If you don't read the news, you're uninformed; if you read the news, you're misinformed.
  • Reply 6 of 51
    timbittimbit Posts: 331member
    Maybe it's for "above street level" mapping for a low flying vehicle or hover vehicle. Similar to Google Street View, but more detailed to capture low level obstacles and exact dimensions of streets for easier navigation.
  • Reply 7 of 51
    timbit wrote: »
    Maybe it's for "above street level" mapping for a low flying vehicle or hover vehicle. Similar to Google Street View, but more detailed to capture low level obstacles and exact dimensions of streets for easier navigation.

    We may never know, but I think the most likely solution is Street View-esqe mapping with a FlyOver look and feel.
  • Reply 8 of 51
    I wonder if Apple is gearing up to bid on the USPS fleet contract? Autonomous, electric mail delivery. Would be a perfect match.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2015/02/18/usps-needs-new-delivery-vehicles-automakers-gearing/
  • Reply 9 of 51
    Do these vehicles have the Apple logo on the doors. How do we know they are being operated by or for Apple?
  • Reply 10 of 51
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by slickdealer View Post



    Still odd to me how the spinning sensors on the front and back tilt down that far. Wouldn't expect a sensor staring at the road would help for mapping.



    Regardless there is still a 99% chance this is just for mapping, probably higher.

    The angle is exactly like what NavTeq uses except they only have one. I think it is to scan 3D of tall buildings. They are rotating so they can see everything.

     

    On a side note I can see that those plates were registered in December of 2014 (expires DEC 2015 - yellow color)

     

    Also I can see it was likely purchased in Houston MAC HAIK DODGE CHRYSLER JEEP

     

    (281) 447-9500 from the license plate frame and the dealer badge under the rear window.

     

    It is a bit puzzling why they would keep the plate frame from Houston when they installed the CA plates which usually takes a few weeks to receive in the mail.

  • Reply 11 of 51
    ecatsecats Posts: 272member
    What seems foolish is to use such small evidence to 'prove' such large assumptions as an autonomous car project where there are many more feasible uses for these sensors.

    Apple could merely be maintaining and improving their maps. This could mean utilising sensors to ensure that the recordings taken at street level are accurate enough to build 3D models, or a simple way of updating the map data without having to do frequent/expensive flyovers. (The cameras also serve to populate street number indexes.)

    Apple Maps is now at the level where they would be best served by sourcing their data directly instead of of via 3rd parties. It was those same 3rd party data which led to the fumbled Maps launch. E.g. A widely publicised issue in Australia regarding Apple's maps accuracy was not the result of Apple keying in data incorrectly - rather the official government gazette was incorrect.

    This project also solves a few problems for apple: 1. some cities have not allowed apple to do fly overs, but have permitted streetview and 2. This provides the enhanced detail when street level features have been occluded by trees and awnings. 3. It's a great test bed for small scale collection such as inside shopping centres/museums/campuses.

    At such a close scanning distance sensors on the vehicle are required to ensure the accuracy of the vehicles location, both to simplifying patching, but also to deal with street level occlusions. (People/poles/etc.) Specifically the vehicle would need to track it's position and movement through space with a high degree of accuracy.

    Down the track this may be something which autonomous vehicles do, but the assumption that the use of these sensors means an imminent consumer car project is quite the leap of faith.
  • Reply 12 of 51
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Opinion seems to be crystallising on the car as a mapping vehicle only.

    That seems fair to me. However, what about these 1,000 people Apple have supposedly put on a secret project? Where do they stand? Not just CarPlay, surely.

    Hmmm....Apple is being sued for poaching 5 engineers from a battery tech company to start a new battery tech team inside Apple.

    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1848022
  • Reply 13 of 51
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    The speculations that Apple was working on an electric car (or any car for that matter) was as absurd as UFO sightings.

    I can never understand why such speculative drivel is reported in the first place, and even worse, allowed to expand over a week of time.

    As Mark Twain said: If you don't read the news, you're uninformed; if you read the news, you're misinformed.

    Except Apple has hired 5 engineers from a battery tech company that focuses on "advanced energy solutions" for, among other things, vehicles.

    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1848022
  • Reply 14 of 51
    I think it's probably fair to say that, at this point, we have no clue. It could be iCar. Or just Maps.
  • Reply 15 of 51
    irelandireland Posts: 17,779member
    Apple Maps Street View these are for. That much is obvious. One can only wonder why Apple didn't begin collecting this data many moons ago.

    The Apple Car product is unrelated to this effort. On that car front I'm going to come up with a name for Apple's car:

    ? 1
  • Reply 16 of 51
    kent909 wrote: »
    Do these vehicles have the Apple logo on the doors. How do we know they are being operated by or for Apple?

    This was covered in previous articles. Someone obtained a link back to Apple through the vehicle tags.
  • Reply 17 of 51
    I agree. Occam's Razor.
  • Reply 18 of 51
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post

     
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post



    Opinion seems to be crystallising on the car as a mapping vehicle only.



    That seems fair to me. However, what about these 1,000 people Apple have supposedly put on a secret project? Where do they stand? Not just CarPlay, surely.




    Hmmm....Apple is being sued for poaching 5 engineers from a battery tech company to start a new battery tech team inside Apple.



    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1848022

     

     

    We'd all love a seismic leap in battery life, so this is understandable. Does it have to be only car-related, or is the technology similar to that used for our idevices?

  • Reply 19 of 51
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,471member
    dave marsh wrote: »
    I agree. Occam's Razor.

    I liked the company so much I bought it ...
  • Reply 20 of 51
    mgzmgz Posts: 26member

    It's possible that this vehicle is for 3D mapping, and simultaneously there is another project that is related to building a car.

     

    That being said, let's go over the rumors and the facts.

     

    Rumors:

     

    - Jony Ive is personally recruiting auto industry execs for a car project (reportedly)

     

    - Apple has created a hundreds-person team to work on a car project, and authorized Steve Zadesky last year to build the team to 1000 people, even poaching from inside the company (reportedly). Do you need 1000 people for a 3D mapping project? Maybe if you're counting the people driving these cars all over the place, but seems unlikely they're recruiting from inside Apple for 3D car drivers.

     

    Apple executives have flown to Austria to meet with contract manufacturers for high-end cars including the Magna Steyr unit of Canadian auto supplier Magna International Inc. (reportedly).

     

    - "A self-driving car is not part of Apple’s current plan, one of the people familiar with the project said" (reportedly). If true, it implies these minivans with high tech equipment on top are probably unrelated to this Titan car project.

     

    In September, Apple hired Johann Jungwirth, who had been the president and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (reportedly).

     

    - Adrian Perica (head of M&A for Apple) met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk in Cupertino last spring (reportedly). Recall that Zadesky was reportedly given the green light for a car project last year. If that is true, did it happen before or after this meeting with Tesla? And if the merger talks failed (if they ever even happened), were any other plans hatched? E.g. Tesla supplies the vehicles, Apple supplies the UX? Tesla and Apple work on gigafactory together? Etc.

     

    Facts:

     

    “There are products that we’re working on that no one knows about, that haven’t been rumored about yet” Chief Executive Tim Cook told interviewer Charlie Rose in September. 

     

    - Apple is attempting / has attempted to hire Tesla employees, confirmed by Elon Musk

     

    - Marc Newson was recently hired by Apple, and he previously designed a concept car for Ford

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