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Apple was first rumored to be working on an autonomous vehicle in early 2015, when reports suggested that the company already had 600 employees working on an electric car design. Later that year, more rumors suggested that the company hoped to launch an electric car to the public by 2019.

Apple has not confirmed or denied its move into the automotive industry. But in 2014 CEO Tim Cook revealed that

 “there are products [Apple] are working on that no one knows about”.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama released in September an overview of the federal government’s automated vehicles policy.

 “If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road,” Obama wrote in an op-ed. “We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety.”

Apple stressed on the need for those developing and deploying automated vehicles to follow rigorous safety principles in design and production. But it cautioned that such principles should not compromise safety or innovation.

“Apple looks forward to collaborating with NHTSA and other stakeholders so that the significant societal benefits of automated vehicles can be realized safely, responsibly and expeditiously,” Kenner wrote

After much speculation, Apple has tacitly admitted was working & investing in (a long-rumored) autonomous car technology. The admittance, inasmuch as there was one, came in the form of a letter from Apple sent to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The five-page letter, penned by Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was sent in response to the proposed Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.

Here’s the first paragraph:

“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”.

“Apple believes will be fundamental to ensuring the safety and public acceptance of automated vehicles while providing a flexible path for innovation and declaring it is excited about the potential for automated transportation and calling on U.S. regulators not to restrict testing of self-driving cars, saying “established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally.”. The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation,” Steve Kenner wrote.

The letter also proposes that all companies in the industry club together to share data from crashes in order to build a more comprehensive picture, but adds that an individual’s privacy should not be compromised by this. Since software would decide what actions to take in potentially dangerous situations, Apple said certain areas need special attention. These include the implications of algorithmic decisions for the safety, mobility and legality of automated vehicles and their occupants, ensuring privacy and security in design.

“Data sharing should not come at the cost of privacy,” it states. “Apple believes that companies should invest the resources necessary to protect individuals’ fundamental right to privacy.”

 

The company registered a number of car-related web domains earlier this year, but hasn’t previously stated that it is working on a self-driving car itself. It was recently reported that Apple laid off or reassigned a large portion of its self-driving car team, at one point, it was estimated that over 1,000 people were secretly working on Apple’s car project.

Apple appears to be building up to something big. The letter to the NHTSA is the clearest indication yet that it is indeed working on a self-driving vehicle, even if that letter is rather vague. Apple wasn’t immediately available to comment on its plans for a car, or what its letter to the NHTSA actually signaled.

Kenner ended the letter by saying: “Apple looks forward to collaborating with NHTSA and other stakeholders so that the significant societal benefits of automated vehicles can be realized safely, responsibly and expeditiously.”

Several large technology companies and traditional car manufacturers are working on automated vehicle technology. Uber has raced ahead of its competitors, deploying Ford Fusions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which do not require hands on the wheel, as part of the company’s regular taxi service.

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