Friday, February 6, 2015

Apple Testing Mysterious Camera-Equipped Vehicles in the Bay Area

Apple’s New Project – Update Map Application

It has been recently reported by Mike Beasley for 9to5Mac, that Apple is preparing a big update to its Maps application for iOS and OS X. San Francisco’s KPIX reported earlier that a Dodge Caravan with an impressive array of cameras has been observed in the area. Beasley reports that the `California DMV confirmed that the vehicle was leased to Apple and that the company is planning to take on Google’s Street View with the same offering in its own Maps software.

Several minivans with camera equipment with a LiDar sensor mounted to the roof seems to be around California which could be part of Apple’s new project since at least one of the vehicles is registered to the iPhone maker. Beasley reports that `if Apple is preparing a Street View feature for Maps, then there is a possibility of seeing an upgrade in the iOS 9 which would debut later this year, should the company maintain its annual upgrade cycle.

 The feature would only support few major cities at launch for instance New York and San Francisco, the locations where the vans were spotted. He adds that the feature may not be included until a later version of iOS, based on the time taken by Apple in collecting data prior to the launch.

LiDar Sensor – Laser Based Technology

Beasley further adds that the Maps application was buggy at the time of launch and Apple has not been at the top of its software game of late and hence is taking a little more time in polishing this new feature. It was observed that the minivans had an X shaped frame which was mounted to the luggage racks having dark recesses which probably housed cameras at each corner.

It was confirmed to San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX by the California Department of Motor Vehicles that a blue Dodge Caravan was spotted with the equipment that was leased to Apple and together with the cameras, a pair of spinning cylindrical devices was fitted to the front and rear that seemed to be LiDar sensors which is a laser based technology used in making high resolution maps.

 This forms an integral part of the sensing systems on self-driving vehicles which includes those that have been developed by Google. According to analyst Rob Enderle, he informed KPIX that he is of the opinion that the vehicles are self-driving cars though it is an unlikely possibility that Apple has not been issued a testing permit for the same and is probably preparing to start a mapping program in line with Google’s Street View data collection initiative.

Technology Similar to Street View Car

Moreover, two small disc shaped antennas have also been fitted to the roof, together with a sensor which hangs over the rear wheel that could be used to measure accurately the movement indicated by the rotation of the wheel.

A similar white van with California license plates were also spotted in Brooklyn last September. It was observed by Enderle that the cameras on the minivan appeared to be around 12 which he considers to be a high number for a mapping vehicle though Google’s latest Street View cars used a ring of 15 5-megapixel CMOS sensors. The equipment on Apple registered van, besides the physical configuration, seems to be somewhat similar to the technology which has been fitted to a Street View car.

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