UPDATE with PICS/VIDEO: The Mystery Van Driving Around Claycord

February 3, 2015 11:14 am · 81 comments

We posted these pictures earlier today, and asked you if you knew what this mystery van was doing driving around Claycord.

When asked about what they are doing, the person sitting in the vehicle would never give an answer.

After several comments on the subject, a few people posted that it has the same type of appearance as the Google self-driving vehicle, and we even received a video of another similar looking van in Brooklyn, New York.

Same type of equipment on the roof, same type of equipment on the tires, etc.

Google’s self-driving vehicles are clearly marked, which means this appears to be coming from another company other than Google.

Here is an image from Google’s self-driving vehicle, which was taken from a YouTube video.


Thanks for all your comments, videos, etc. on the subject. Without you, this mystery couldn’t have been solved.

What’s your opinion? After comparing the two pictures and seeing the video, do you think this is a self-driving vehicle that’s roaming the streets of Claycord?

RELATED STORY: The Mystery Vans Around Claycord – What Are They Doing?

Anon February 3, 2015 at 11:16 AM


jonnybgud February 3, 2015 at 11:20 AM

could still be google outsourcing it or just trying to draw less attention. or some other map company. or north korea. who knows.

Jeffsterz February 3, 2015 at 11:20 AM

If this video is correct, then it’s somebody manning a self driving vehicle:

Sunhi3mand February 3, 2015 at 11:25 AM

I just saw one of those driving around Dublin.

3rd Krat Brother February 3, 2015 at 11:32 AM

Mercedes are testing their autonomous vehicle technology at Concord Naval Weapons Station. It could be them…though why would they mount it on a Dodge minivan?

Gargoyle Socks February 3, 2015 at 11:35 AM

I’m in my early 50s and work in the software industry, so I don’t consider myself an old-school geezer. But I just don’t like the idea of self-driving cars. I’m also a TERRIBLE passenger/backseat driver, so maybe that’s the source of the problem. I just don’t like it. And get off my lawn!

Original G February 3, 2015 at 11:38 AM

The DARPA Grand Challenge about ten years ago started much of the autonomous vehicle interest. Some in government realized the private sector without government interference, just prize money, could advance the field quickly. (As they did with oil spill cleanup technology.)
Local entry

Abbie R. February 3, 2015 at 11:38 AM

Men in Black UFO Supression Van.

M February 3, 2015 at 11:39 AM

I’ve seen three different cars/vans with this getup on the top.

Ex Coastie February 3, 2015 at 11:40 AM

There was one driving around Lafayette yesterday as well. There must be quite a few of these in order for them to be seen so many places in such a short time period.

@Gargoyle Socks February 3, 2015 at 11:42 AM

Work in a medium size manufacturing plant as elect. maint. and totally agree have seen software hiccup and go brain dead causing major damage to equipment.

jtkatec February 3, 2015 at 11:45 AM

Why has no one called in the Air Force? Let’s bomb ’em, and see how long those drivers won’t answer our questions!

Justin February 3, 2015 at 11:45 AM

You’re welcome Claycord.

Sick Of It February 3, 2015 at 11:46 AM

29 burglaries in Concord last week.

Invasion February 3, 2015 at 11:46 AM

Are city officials and police being notified these vehicles are operating within city limits? What about the public’s right to know?

Nick February 3, 2015 at 11:59 AM

Take pictures and video of the vehicle and be as loud about it as you can. Tell the guy you are reporting a suspicious vehicle to the cops. You dont have to notify cops, but this will make him suspicious and may tell you more info.

iluvfriedchicken February 3, 2015 at 12:17 PM

@2 I think it could be Google too. Maybe they’re using a shell company to perform tests. I wonder if my children will grow up in a time when driving your own car is considered “old school”.

ggggg February 3, 2015 at 12:17 PM

Saw one on ayers and concord blvd around 1115..

Another Spotting February 3, 2015 at 12:30 PM

I’ve seen an identical van driving yesterday and today in the Rossmoor area as well.

Cowellian February 3, 2015 at 12:32 PM

Is trying to hit CTRL+ALT+DEL on an out-of-control car considered texting?

Technology vs. Technology February 3, 2015 at 12:43 PM

If the person sitting in the vehicle won’t give any answers… then how about if someone pulls their drone out and follows the vehicle to help get answers? I am sure this will get everyone’s attention! Technology vs. Technology

Justin February 3, 2015 at 1:17 PM

Is there some reason people are getting up in and arms and demanding these be reported to the police? They’re legally registered and licensed vehicles being operated legally by a private outfit.

There’s zero reason to report them to the police. Some of you have your tinfoil hats on way too tight.

We already know they’re self-driving test vehicles, and that they have a driver on board in case.

rkt88edmo February 3, 2015 at 1:22 PM

The google self driving vehicles are pretty clearly labeled and have a pretty distinct spinning tower on top. I’ve seen one on 101 and had to resit the urge to swerve into it’s lane 😮

These definitely look like something different, they could just be a different company that is a little more stealth.

Zippity Di Da February 3, 2015 at 1:25 PM

It could be Apple’s mapping —
to compete with Google. As
I recall, when their maps were
released, they left something
to be desired. Playing “catch

claytonpls February 3, 2015 at 1:29 PM


Texting and driving is exactly that. Sending or receiving a text message that is going to another person using another mobile device. GPS and driving is not texting. Selecting music and driving is not texting. Using a mounted computer is not texting. In order to be fined for anything besides texting it would be considered distracted driving which can cover many different things.

KJ February 3, 2015 at 1:35 PM

I saw one in the Trader Joe’s parking lot (Treat & Oak Grove) last week. I was wondering what the contraption on top was.

Dog Gone February 3, 2015 at 1:37 PM

I really do believe the Google
“satellite” view is done from
a plane that is painted light
blue on the underside (to match
the color of the sky when looking
straight up) so that its low altitude
is indistinguishable. About every
three months, I can hear a plane
passing overhead, but it is not visible
to the naked eye as others
passing over are — an apparant
“ghost” plane — you can hear it,
but you can’t see ir.

@Cowellian February 3, 2015 at 1:48 PM

If the computer locks up does the vehicle slam on the brakes and turn blue?

Silva February 3, 2015 at 1:51 PM

It should be made to fly if it must have all that s*%t on top of it.

Cowellian February 3, 2015 at 2:17 PM

That’s a relief, claytonpls.
If I have the BSOD covering my windshield, the last thing I’d want is a texting ticket.

hlw February 3, 2015 at 2:53 PM

fwiw, i sent the above photos into the mayor the other day… and i’ve seen the vans in SF as well as in other parts of oakland.

one of the vans nearly ran me down in SF while pulling over for a starbucks run and when i asked the driver, he said something about surveying as he was running away. the other vans wouldn’t even acknowledge that i was approaching to ask a question and one even “shooed” me away with his hand as i was approaching.

as far as it being a self-driving car (per the video), there’s really no other evidence to point to that assumption than the title itself… however, it is interesting seeing them in other places (NYC, etc.).

the banter is fantastic…

Joe Queirolo February 3, 2015 at 2:55 PM

I saw the same set-up on top of a white van that went up and down our street in Walnut Creek. The fellow in the passenger seat seemed to be looking at a map book.

Karl Hungis February 3, 2015 at 3:00 PM

I saw that same vehicle driving down marsh creek on saturday morning. Then it turned down morgan territory

concord resident February 3, 2015 at 3:11 PM

It’s Apple. If this was any other company they’d have their logos slapped all over the vehicle because hey, free advertising. Apple, on the other hand, seems to value secrecy and rudeness above all else.

Reality February 3, 2015 at 3:25 PM

Folks. It is a private road surveying company, surveying the roads. Sorry to crush the guessing game. There is no basis for a cop to stop and demand to know who/what they are. Your curiosity does not trump 4th amendment rights.

rick February 3, 2015 at 3:33 PM

It a van that tracked the road conditions It sends back the info to determine wether or not there needs to be road work

TinFoilCar February 3, 2015 at 3:48 PM

It’s the CIA, FBI OR KGB. No doubt about it. Haha

Bob February 3, 2015 at 3:58 PM

Registered to a nation fleet company with apple listed as the Leasee.

Bob February 3, 2015 at 3:58 PM


MLM February 3, 2015 at 4:26 PM

Note the aftermarket rims, older model minivan, dealer license plate frame – highly unlikely this is a government vehicle. There appears to be two GPS antennas on top, which would suggest this is a privately-owned autonomous vehicle. See the provided link to a recent article in Inc. Magazine on autonomous cars.

Nose Picker February 3, 2015 at 4:29 PM

Since the Apple Google friendship soured quite some time ago, it’s just Apple correcting their many many mapping errors from their map app. Even their old app icon had the driver following directions right off an overpass.

Saw it February 3, 2015 at 4:41 PM

I saw it on Alberta Dr. in Concord this afternoon.

Anne Moss February 3, 2015 at 5:07 PM

Hubby is a PI, there is a database PIs have access to that gives them pictures of all the places your car has been seen via a look up by the license plate #. These vehicles are probably collecting info (licenses, face scanning technology etc) to put in a database to sell. Privacy does not exist.

nytemuvr February 3, 2015 at 5:57 PM

This was just on CBS (Channel 13 Sacramento) local news confirming that it’s Apple’s mapping vehicles giving Claycord as it’s source of the story.

Drakesden February 3, 2015 at 6:31 PM

Apparently, Uber is developing self-driving cars, partly because Google is planning to go into the ride-sharing business: http://beta.slashdot.org/story/213101

Maybe these are Uber’s test vehicles?

Silva February 3, 2015 at 6:45 PM

Anne Moss #44, 🙁 🙁 🙁

Silva February 3, 2015 at 6:45 PM


ZippityDoDa February 3, 2015 at 7:46 PM

You heard it here first: @25 ZippityDoDa

Trevor February 3, 2015 at 7:58 PM

You know you live in suburbia when this is considered news…

maybe February 3, 2015 at 10:23 PM

Waze mapping? Or other mapping company?

RKS February 3, 2015 at 10:47 PM

I saw a red car with the same equipment, Monday out in the Clayton (where Orchard is) shopping center, driving around the perimeter of the shopping center and then back and forth on each parking row???

Well I never! February 4, 2015 at 12:13 AM

saw one on treat and oak grove the other day. i think it was red. this guy was a little friendlier when i aske dhim what it was. i got the impression it was like a m apquest thingy. but he didnt say who he was with.

me February 4, 2015 at 5:37 AM
Looking ahead February 4, 2015 at 7:06 AM

I seen it on Monument Boulevard on January 27 tried to take a picture of the van with my iPad but that’s not an easy task when you’re trying to drive so I didn’t really get to know how the picture was until later I viewed the picture and it was out of focus so I deleted it but with the iPad you can view deleted pictures but after I took the picture the van made A illegal U-turn and that was it bye-bye, wondering what heck was that all about maybe will never know but with patients of time it’ll be revealed!

Officer Barbrady February 4, 2015 at 7:20 AM

This story got directly linked to drudge report today which means about a zillion hits on our Claycord. Cool

zorb February 4, 2015 at 7:29 AM

Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s racist because they’re using a black van. Right liberals?

me February 4, 2015 at 8:24 AM

Engadget (with proper credit to Claycord.com) confirmed it’s Apple:

Safety Second February 4, 2015 at 8:53 AM

This is the top story on the Drudge Report marquee this morning. The Drudge Report, which is the “mother of all online news sites”, specifically cites Claycord.com as the source of the story. Way to go Claycordians…we are going national:)

David February 4, 2015 at 9:01 AM

The aparatus you see on the cartop is a mobile LiDAR unit. It is used to perform topographic mapping for surveyors, and things such as sign inventories for GIS(Geographic Infomation Systems) professionals. It uses lasers which can measure millions of points in a very short time. It can map all it sees within a certain distance as it drives around.

nytemuvr February 4, 2015 at 9:04 AM

@ZippityDoDa #49
Yep, saw it here first. I still get a kick to hear stories about “home” on TV up here, especially when they credit the story broke here on the website. Kudos to the Mayor and Claycord for getting the story out quickly.

Mimi (original) February 4, 2015 at 9:16 AM

If a business doesn’t want their “mapping” vehicles stopped by passersby they should identify their vehicles. I, for one, would be calling CPD if one of these cruised through my neighborhood!

LBow February 4, 2015 at 9:43 AM

Top news article on the Drudge Report this morning links to a CBS Bay Area article that references Claycord’s reporting on this issue!


zieck February 4, 2015 at 9:57 AM

Saw one of those making a U turn in my apartment complex in AIEA HAWAII.

coolguy99 February 4, 2015 at 10:05 AM

Research marches on, but we will not see truly self-driving cars in less than 20 years. They will only be safe while driving with other self-driving cars – throw human drivers into the mix, and all safety features go right out the window. The guy with his left blinker on for the last 2 miles is going to turn right – I know that, a computer does not.

Cowellian February 4, 2015 at 10:07 AM

Even self-driven cars want to go to Anna Miller’s.

Antler February 4, 2015 at 10:21 AM

Isn’t this the way they get the “street view” data for Google Map’s “little green man” icon?

Usef February 4, 2015 at 10:58 AM
zorb February 4, 2015 at 11:07 AM
Jim February 4, 2015 at 11:48 AM

According to the DMV, the vehicle is leased to Apple.

Jojo potato February 4, 2015 at 11:50 AM

Link to Claycord has also shown up in stories on Dailymail.com and theGuardian.com. Daily Mail for my fix of trash news, the Guardian for what’s really going on in the world (including excellent coverage of stories from the U.S.)

Apple Car? February 4, 2015 at 12:49 PM

More reports of it being from Apple:

Apple spotted driving sensor-equipped vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area


Jojo potato February 4, 2015 at 2:51 PM

Whoever said “the internet is simply a world wide Xerox machine” had it right. Everyone just copies each other over and over. At least it’s not on paper or there wouldn’t be a tree left on our planet!

hlw February 4, 2015 at 8:24 PM

and they all used my photo! 😉

(i get paid for that, right?)

Restado February 5, 2015 at 11:12 AM
Ryiss February 5, 2015 at 1:52 PM

I seen one on the freeway in Oahu.

Timerider February 5, 2015 at 2:30 PM

Saw the dark Dodge Caravan with strange white optical gear on the roof and the two “spinny things” in Mammoth Lakes this week, driving up Hwy. 203 through the middle of town. Somebody’s taking data alright.

yisroel February 5, 2015 at 5:03 PM

I posted the video on youtube. I have yet to receive a red cent for my video

RunDogRun February 5, 2015 at 5:59 PM

You won’t get paid for anything you
put on the internet unless it is copyrighted
and you sell the rights. The stuff you post
is the content that runs Twitter, Facebook,
Instagram, etc. Your stuff is how they mske
money. You could start a blog, like the
mayor, post your stuff, and sell advertising
to make money on photos. Or, you can
sell them thru an agency. Personally, I’m
going to start keeping my opinions to myself
and if sone news agency wants it, they’ll
have to pay me for my considerable talents.

Source February 6, 2015 at 8:47 PM

The vehicles are leased to Apple as discovered by KPIX. Consensus in the tech news seems to be that its not some sort of self-driving or autonomous car project, but is most likely being used for 3D mapping for Apples’ maps apps.

tryg February 9, 2015 at 6:16 PM

I have seen 4 of these. 1 in Pleasanton, 1 in Upland CA(So Cal) on Feb. 7 and 2 yesterday on Interstate 5 heading south between the Bay area and So. Cal.

Apple Car ??? February 16, 2015 at 5:24 PM

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