A knowledgable sounding blogger over at TechRadar reports spotting a unique Apple test vehicle on the streets surrounding Apple’s vehicle development facilities in Sunnyvale, California.
The author has seen Apple Map vehicles which, like Google’s map cars, are simply photographing the streets for digital use. Those vehicles are known to have markings specifically indicating the cars are being used for Apple Maps, which Apple has also admitted to.
This vehicle however was quite different.
It was instead of a Dodge Caravan, a white Ford Transit van, and had no identifying marks.
Additionally it had a spread of equipment along the top which again is different from what is found atop the Apple map vehicles.
The author noted this equipment includes four lidars, one for each corner and two cameras in the back. The rear lidars were seen to be spinning furiously. Lidars are tools which can detect objects around vehicles and measure their distance. They are known to be used in autonomous vehicle testing both by Ford and Google.
A driver was also observed by the author. The driver was seen at least once to have his hands on the wheel and controlling it as the van was pulling out of a lot, but at one point, while the car was moving on the road, the driver could not be seen possibly suggesting the vehicle was driving itself.
Other features noted by the author were a large bump on the roof of the van, much larger than those seen in the Apple map cars, suggesting it was filled with more extensive and sophisticated sensing equipment.
Also an antenna protruding from one of the rear tires was likely measuring distances from the curb – these used to be on Google cars until they became internalized into the wheel.
All in all, it seems very likely this Transit van was indeed an autonomous Apple car test mule, and signifies the company is moving closer everyday to a real Apple car launch.