Apple is believed to be behind a mysterious van making the rounds on the city streets of Concord in California.
This has prompted some people to believe that the iPhone maker is setting its sights on the vehicle of the future: the self-driving car.
Photos of the vehicle were first posted online by Bay Area blog Claycord. The photos show a dark blue Dodge Caravan featuring equipment that appear to be LiDAR sensors, which use laser technology to take high-resolution images for mapping. These are similar to the LiDAR system mounted on top of Google's prototype self-driving cars tested last year.
Claycord also says that a similar self-driving van, a white Dodge Caravan, was seen roaming the streets of Brooklyn, New York last year. The black van in Concord, however, had a driver, says Claycord. Asked what the vehicle's equipment was for, the driver declined to comment.
CBS Local affiliate KPIX caught wind of the story and confirmed from the Department of Motor Vehicles that the mystery van is indeed leased to Apple. However, Apple is not one of the six companies that have acquired permits to test self-driving vehicles on the roads of California.
Still, that doesn't stop technology analyst Rob Enderle from telling KPIX that he believes Apple is working on a self-driving vehicle.
"Too many cameras," he said. "It has cameras that are angled down at all four corners of the vehicle."
Enderle says just because Apple does not have a permit does not mean it cannot work on its own self-driving car project, especially since Apple has a variety of partnerships with car manufacturers who just might have secured a permit.
"It can be a partnership," Enderle said. "Just because they're leasing the car doesn't necessarily mean it's their project."
Others, however, believe an Apple self-driving car is a little bit far-fetched, considering the company's current focus on consumer electronics. A more likely explanation, as Apple Insider notes, is that Apple is using the van for its own mapping project that could be similar to Google Street View or Bing Streetside.
In fact, the LiDAR sensors on top of the van are more similar to the same technology used in Google's StreetView cars. Although Enderle says the van has too many sensors to be a mapping vehicle -- it appears that it has 12 -- Google's own Street View cars actually have 15 CMOS cameras.
Last year, 9to5Mac reported that Apple was planning to significantly improve its Maps application with ambitious plans to include features such as transit direction and indoor mapping and, later on, improved car integration and augmented reality.
The report followed a public bashing that ensued after Apple launched an embarrassingly inaccurate Maps app for iOS 6 in 2012. At the time, Apple CEO Tim Cook even issued a public apology, promising that Apple will improve Maps until it reaches the company's "incredibly high standard."