Apple Maps vehicles equipped with LiDAR sensors have begun collecting street-level data in Japan for the first time this month.
Apple will be surveying the Tokyo and Urayasu areas between June and October of this year, according to a new Apple Maps vehicles page created specifically for Japan, first spotted by Japanese blog Mac Otakara.
Japan is the 11th country where the vehicles are collecting data since the initiative began in 2015, alongside Croatia, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
To date, Apple has periodically updated a list of locations where the vehicles will be collecting data on its U.S. website, including other countries, but Japan now has its own localized page, perhaps to satisfy local laws.
The verbiage on the page has suggested that Apple could be working on a feature similar to Google's Street View for Apple Maps:
Apple is driving vehicles around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps. Some of this data will be published in future Apple Maps updates.
We are committed to protecting your privacy while collecting this data. For example, we will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication.
In 2015, Mark Gurman reported that Apple planned to launch a 3D street view feature, based on a combination of its existing Flyover mode with street-level data. He also said the data would help Apple shift to an in-house mapping database by 2018, reducing its reliance on third-party sources like TomTom.
By the sound of it, Apple's mapping data could be used for advanced augmented reality applications, as part of a future update to ARKit.
Early speculation suggested the vehicles could be the basis of an Apple Car, but those rumors quieted down after the vans were labeled with Apple Maps decals, and because Apple has shifted towards testing self-driving software with Lexus 450h SUVs near its headquarters in California.
If you spot an Apple Maps vehicle in a location yet to be listed on Apple's website, be sure to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.