Apple Self-Driving Car Interest Revealed

Apple for the first time acknowledges an interest in self-driving cars. In a letter to the NHTSA, Apple writes that it is "excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation."

Photo Caption: Apple says it is "investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation." (Photo Credit: Reuters)

In a letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Apple has for the first time acknowledged interest in self-driving cars, saying “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”

Apple’s five-page letter, which you can read in its entirety here, was prompted by the fact that Apple “uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal.”

Apple also says it wants to help define best practices for the self-driving car market. The letter, written by Apple’s director of product integrity Steve Kenner, urges the NHTSA to not introduce too many rules around testing self-driving cars, saying that “established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally.”

The letter, which is dated Nov. 22, 2016, also addresses the Federal Automated Vehicles policy and a proposed data sharing program.

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“Apple agrees that companies should share de-identified scenario and dynamics data from crashes and near-misses,” the letter says. “Data should be sufficient to reconstruct the event, including time-series of vehicle kinematics and characteristics of the roadway and objects.” Apple also points out that data sharing should not come at the expense of privacy, and that companies should invest resources to protect the “individuals’ fundamental right to privacy.”

Of course, the letter doesn’t address whether Apple is actually building a self-driving car despite long-standing rumors the company is doing just that. The rumors have been so strong that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak even had to comment, saying that an Apple self-driving car makes sense. “Self-driving cars are so important in everyone’s lives, and it’s such a huge market when you consider the cost of roads, the cost of cars, the costs of the lasered traffic,” Wozniak said.

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Those rumors became more serious in August 2015 when a report uncovered documents that said Apple was building a self-driving car in Silicon Valley and was looking for test areas in the San Francisco Bay area. The report said Apple engineers met in May 2015 with GoMentum Station, a formal naval base near San Francisco that officials say is the largest secure test facility in the world for autonomous vehicles.

During Apple’s Q4 2016 financial results, CEO Tim Cook answered a question about the company’s interest in the automotive industry. “And we are always looking at new things, and the car space in general is an area that it’s clear that there is a lot of technologies that will either become available or will be able to revolutionize the car experience,” Cook said. “And so it’s interesting from that point of view, but nothing to, certainly nothing to announce today.”

In October 2016, however, it was reported Apple was abandoning its car plans “for now.” After numerous layoffs and reassignments, the remaining members of the Apple Car team were said to be focusing on autonomous systems. Dozens of employees are also working on a car operating system in Canada.



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