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Apple Maps van
The Apple Maps van on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle on Monday. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Apple’s use of high-tech vehicles to collect data in locales around the world — for some sort of improvement to Apple Maps — has come to the streets of Seattle, as GeekWire spotted a white van on Dexter Avenue North on Monday.

The van, with California license plates, featured an array of rooftop devices and Apple’s web address for Maps was printed on the side:

The company listed locations around the world where the vans will be driving and collecting data between Sept. 25 and Oct. 8. “We are committed to protecting your privacy while collecting this data,” Apple wrote. “For example, we will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication. If you have comments or questions about this process, please contact us.”

The default mapping service in iOS was released in September 2012 and was widely criticized for a number of glitches and bugs.

Back in June, Mashable spotted a similar van on the streets of New York and analyzed the visible equipment to make some assumptions about what Apple might be planning for Maps. Here’s some of what Mashable deduced:

In addition to the small, white GPS antenna on top there are three wide-angle cameras in the center, two pointed at 45 degree angles toward the street level and one pointed up at the rooftops. Assume this triad is duplicated on the opposite side of the truck. There’s also a camera in the front and one on the back. That’s a clear sign that Apple is collecting street-level imagery, which could be used to build street view into Apple Maps.

But the cameras aren’t the most interesting hardware. You see all those silver cylinders? Those are Velodyne LIDAR sensors. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is sophisticated 3D depth-sensing technology known mostly as one of the sensor techs in self-driving cars. Bouncing infrared light off objects can tell you the exact distance of the car in front of you, but also the distance to the bumper, windshield and roof. For a building, you get geo- and image-synced data on the distance to the curb, the front of the building, and the storefront sign jutting out above it. It’s a 3D map of your environment.

Apple Maps van
(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The site said that, in its opinion, Apple is at work on 3D street view, which could take it beyond the now-superior aspect of Google Maps Street View. And Apple could be headed toward augmented reality and virtual reality implementation, meaning users could someday take VR walks on realistic streets.

Locations will also be mapped from Oct. 9 to 22 and Oct. 23 to Nov. 5, according to the Maps site. Here are the other Washington counties, besides King, where Apple says its vans will be collecting data:

Adams County, Asotin County, Benton County, Chelan County, Clallam County, Clark County, Columbia County, Cowlitz County, Douglas County, Ferry County, Franklin County, Garfield County, Grant County, Grays Harbor County, Island County, Jefferson County, King County, Kitsap County, Kittitas County, Klickitat County, Lewis County, Lincoln County, Mason County, Okanogan County, Pacific County, Pend Oreille County, Pierce County, San Juan County, Skagit County, Skamania County, Snohomish County, Spokane County, Stevens County, Thurston County, Wahkiakum County, Walla Walla County, Whatcom County, Whitman County, Yakima County.

Apple Maps van
(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)


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