Apple is apparently upping its mapping game with at least a few minivans kitted out with a combination of LIDAR and cameras spotted in both New York and California. But this likely isn't Apple's first foray into autonomous vehicles.
The cars have been spotted over the past few months, including in the video below back in September:
But despite breathless press assuming that Apple is ready go make its own self-driving car, that probably isn't happening.
The system mounted to the roof – which I saw on the floor of the ITS World Congress in Detroit last year – is primarily used for mapping and scanning. The camera and LIDAR combo uses both data sources to create much more granular images, and the wheel speed sensor is similar to what other mapping companies – including Navteq and Microsoft – have used to get accurate measurements to help create Google Streetview-like imagery.
Apple Maps hasn't been exactly a smash hit, so there's no doubt the company is trying to boost its usefulness with better features and improved graphics. This is likely the first step in finally getting its mapping game really up to speed.