Vans Gather Data in Cities Worldwide to 'Improve Apple Maps'

Apple is reportedly working on self-driving car software as well.

by Matthew Santoni, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / July 28, 2017

(TNS) -- The latest vehicles topped by camera equipment and sensors to cruise around the Pittsburgh region are helping to build up Apple's competitor to Google Maps and may also have a role in future autonomous cars.

White vans branded with “Apple Maps,” carrying camera equipment on all four sides of the roof, have been spotted around Pittsburgh, with a webpage for the Cupertino-based tech giant saying that the vans are gathering data around the United States, England, France, Italy and Spain “which will be used to improve Apple Maps.”

Some of the images and data they gather — with faces and license plates blurred for privacy before publication — may be used in future updates to the Apple Maps app, the company said. The vans will be in parts of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties at least through Aug. 13, according to the website.

While the data could be used to help Apple build something analogous to Google's “Street View” feature, which has been available in the United States since 2007,'s Lance Ulanoff reported that the vans also have LIDAR sensors, similar to what help autonomous vehicles detect distance between them and other objects. Those sensors, Ulanoff wrote, could help Apple build three-dimensional maps into its apps, either to make a more immersive “street-level” experience or even create virtual reality applications.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also told Bloomberg Television in June that the company was working on self-driving car software as well.

Google's own fleet of vehicles collecting imagery for Street View, which is occasionally updated to refresh views and expand coverage, are also listed as coming to parts of Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland counties between July and October.

©2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.