Apple's contribution to the self-driving-future:
Tesla, GM, but also Baidu and definitely Google have been (unusually) open about their development of a self-driving car. Blogging, public progress reports, interviews, even accident statistics. Other have not been very transparent. Uber for example has been reported building a research center in all secrecy focusing on self-driving cars and mapping technology. But the most mysterious by far has been Apple.
It is perhaps understandable that Apple wants to wait out uncertainty and resistance, but cars by default circulate on public domain and are more difficult to be kept a secret than things circling around the internet. More and more signs are pointing to the possibility of the iCar (or iMove); Apple’s Project Titan team would be secretly building an electric and driverless car. Following the rumors and hearsay, this is the proof of Project Titan and the proof of a coming Apple self-driving car:
a. Apple cars spotted
In the beginning of 2015 rumors first arose when unlabeled vehicles were seen driving around Bay Area streets in California, decked with rooftop cameras and sensors. These Dodge minivans later turned out to be registered by Apple.
b. Talent hunting
A few days after the mysterious vans were first spotted, an Apple employee emailed Business Insider, suggesting Apple was working on a project that would "give Tesla a run for its money. Little by little proof was being dug up that Apple was recruiting automotive technology and vehicle design experts to work in a "top-secret research lab." More than 60 former Tesla employees were employed by Apple, offering them a $250k signing bonus and 60 percent pay increase. Including them hardware, software, manufacturing and supply chain engineers, recruiters, sales specialists, attorneys and product managers, all experienced in the car industry.
But also other field experts are joining Apple. One of the new hires is Jonathan Cohen, the director of deep learning for chip-maker N-vidia. In total more than a hundred car industry veterans have been linked to Apple and more than 1000 employees are thought to be working on Project Titan.
c. Negotiations with BMW
This rumor started when Tim Cook and consorts visited the BMW production facility in Leipzig. Apparently Apple seemed interested in the BMW i3 electric vehicle, reportedly the most energy-efficient car in the US. After the visit is was firmly believed that the i3 could form the basis of the rumored iCar.
Apple has been patenting automotive technology for over a decade, most patents being discovered by Cult Of Mac. One such patent, filed in 2011, would allow you to unlock your car and start your engine from an iDevice such as your iPhone or iPad. Another interesting patent, filed in 2009, shows a design with in-car camera technology that would detect hand gestures and could control car functions, such as the locking system or headlights.
e. Secret testing areas and pseudonym companies
In May 2016, Apple’s engineers met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco. According to the Guardian, it is being turned into a highly secret testing ground for Apple’s autonomous vehicles.
In addition, there has also been talk of a secret automobile R&D facility where Apple is recruiting experts to potentially build the iCar. It says to be ran by the ex-head of R&D at Mercedes, Johann Jungwirth and the company would be called Faraday Future.
Lastly Silicon Republic reports that Apple is attempting to recruit auto industry experts to work at its plant oversees. According to Silicon Republic Apple is building out a car manufacturing company in Cork, Ireland.
f. Apple car domains
In the beginning of 2016 it turned out that Apple had registered three car-related domains, apple.car, apple.cars, and apple.auto, as reported by MacRumors. There is no guarantee that the domains relate to Apple's iCar project, especially seeing as the company had been pushing its CarPlay connectivity system, but it definitely reinforced the suspicion.
That Apple has always been interested in cars proves CarPlay, Apple's official iPhone-compatible in-dashboard experience. CarPlay pulls data directly from your iPhone, feeding it to your car and allowing you to control and interact with your iPhone through your vehicle or the other way around. This results in basic in-car calling, Siri or music-features. But CarPlay also taps into Apple’s mapping service, which is basically the beginning of a driverless car system.
When will we find out the truth?
All signals are go for an Apple self-driving car. Apple seems to have entered the race. But when will we know for sure what Apple is doing? And what exactly can we expect? The truth is that no one outside of Apple really knows. According to the Wall Street Journal the Apple Car is on course to be released in 2019, but it will not be a fully autonomous car, but instead an electric car with a handful of 'smart' features like advanced cruise control and an automatic lane changing system.
All we know for sure is that Apple has a long way to go before it can compete with companies like Google or Tesla. Apple has the money to buy the cars, sensors, processors, navigational systems and other pieces of hardware. It can replicate the sophisticated maps that Google has compiled. But driverless cars learn to drive through on the road experience. Predicting what other cars will do depends on very sophisticated deep learning algorithms. And Apple does not possess a license for testing driverless cars on public domains just yet. Therefor Apple will have a very hard time catching up with the on-the-road learning process.
On September 2016 Apple announced it was laying off dozens of its project employees and that it has abandoned car-related efforts altogether. It will still focus on autonomous applications (which exactly is unknown). Read more here.