Way back in February 2015, there were murmurs that Apple was working on a car that would “give Tesla a run for its money” after Business Insider spoke to an Apple employee with knowledge of the subject. This, coupled with sightings of cars registered to Apple clad with sensors/cameras (which were later debunked) got everyone talking about the prospects of an Apple Car, or iCar.
The iCar project is codenamed ‘Titan’, according to The Wall Street Journal, which originally stated there were “several hundred” Apple employees working on the project.
While reports originally claimed that Apple was working on a self-driving car, a 2017 interview with CEO Tim Cook suggests that Apple may have changed directions on the project and is now working on an autonomous driving platform.
Whatever the end product, Apple is developing something car-related, whether it’s an autonomous driving system, an Apple Car or simply an in-car entertainment system – although the company will never admit what. We’ll let you read all the below evidence and decide for yourselves.
Evidence that Apple is working on an automated car/system
Here is where we list some of the most prominent rumours suggesting Apple is making an iCar.
Tim Cook confirms Apple is working on autonomous driving project
After years of silence from Apple about its plans for driverless technology and the possibility of an iCar, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently sat down with Bloomberg to discuss the newest project at the company: autonomous driving.
Talking about the project, Cook says that Apple is “focusing on autonomous systems” and that “it’s a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to actually work on”.
Of course, Cook wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Apple is working on producing an iCar, driverless or otherwise, or whether the technology will be used by existing car manufacturers. “We’ll see where it takes us. We’re not really saying from a productpoint of view what we will do.”
According to Cook, Apple is currently focusing on everything it takes to ‘view’ the world around the car and understanding what it means in the context of navigation and safety.
While this isn’t confirmation that Apple is working on a car to utilise the self-driving technology, it’s not a huge leap to make either.
Apple pens letter to US transport regulators about self-driving car rules
While many had believed that Apple was stepping away from the autonomous car project, a letter penned to US transport regulators by Apple’s director of product integrity Steve Kenner may suggest otherwise. Apple has apparently said that it was “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation” and that there were “significant societal benefits of automated vehicles” to be realised.
An Apple spokesman has confirmed that the letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was prompted by its “heavy investment in machine learning and autonomous systems” and that it wanted to help define best practises in the industry going forward.
The letter urges regulators to not introduce too many rules regarding the testing of self-driving cars, claiming that “established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally“. Kenner also suggests that companies should share data from crashes and near-misses to build a more comprehensive picture than would be possible by one company alone, helping to improve the systems.
Of course, with Apple being so focused on user privacy, it’d be out of character not to mention it in the letter. Kenner notes that an individual’s privacy should not be compromised by the sharing of data, and that regulators “address privacy challenges associated with the collection, use, and sharing of automated vehicle data“.
Apple awarded self-driving car permit in California
Following Apple’s letter to the NHTSA in late 2016, Apple has been awarded a permit that’ll let the company test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the permit lets Apple retrofit three 2015 Lexus SUVs with all the technology required for autonomous driving. The permit also allows for six people to sit in the cars during testing and can take over driving if/when necessary.
This suggests that Apple has been conducting successful tests on closed tracks and wants to really push the system by testing it on public roads where there are more variables for the autonomous driving system to deal with.
Is Apple still developing a self-driving iCar, or is it testing out autonomous technology for other manufacturers to use? Both options are possible, but it’ll be a while before we find out for sure.