The mysterious Apple vans, driving around major cities in the United States, are performing various tasks with a view to overhauling the company’s Maps platform.
According to 9to5Mac sources, the camera-loaded vehicles are capturing all the imagery necessary to launch a 3D mapping service to rival Google Maps' Street View.
The Dodge Caravan vans have been fitted with LIDAR cameras to capture 360 degree photography and pictures of store fronts, which will eventually replace those currently sourced through Yelp.
The improvements with help provide Apple with an ‘entirely in-house mapping database, according to the report, allowing the company to shed a reliance on TomTom.
It appears the plan is to switch to its own database by 2017 or 2018, which would then put Apple Maps on a similar pedestal to Google, Garmin and Nokia Here in terms of self sufficiency.
According to the report, this switch will mean more accurate, first-party data rather than conflicting information from several sources. It was this multi-source approach that caused many of Apple Maps embarrassing early issues.
In terms of the Street View rival, Apple has only recently started collecting the data, so it may not appear in the iOS 9 Maps app that’s expected to debut public transport information.
Likewise with the store front photography. The sources say its a long term initiative that will roll out gradually as more images are gathered.
Read more: iOS 9: things we want to see
Earlier rumours has suggested the leased vans were being used to test Apple’s (again, rumoured) self-driving cars initiative. That doesn’t appear to be the case.