Tim Cook Confirms Apple’s Focus on Autonomous Driving Systems

Apple CEO Tim Cook has spoken to Bloomberg to clarify for the first time the company's intentions in the automotive market, following several reports in recent months indicating that the company has put its ambitions to build a car on the back-burner.
"We're focusing on autonomous systems," Cook said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "It's a core technology that we view as very important."

"We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects," Cook said in his most detailed comments to date on Apple's plans in the car space. "It's probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on."
Cook has not been as forthcoming in previous remarks when asked about Apple's car plans, choosing instead to call the automotive space "interesting" because of the potential for new technologies. However recent rumors had converged around the belief that Apple has refocused its car project, which reportedly involved more than 1,000 engineers when it originally began in 2014.

Ballooning costs and a change in management were said to have pushed Apple's car strategy increasingly toward autonomous driving systems, leading to dozens of employees involved in the project being laid off as part of an internal "reboot".
"There is a major disruption looming," Cook told Bloomberg, citing self-driving technology, electric vehicles and ride-hailing. "You've got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame. If you've driven an electric car, it's actually a marvelous experience. "
Cook's comments are particularly timely, following indications that Apple's exclusive focus on self-driving technology has accelerated in recent months.

In April, the company was granted a permit from the California DMV to test self-driving vehicles on public roads, and is rumored to be planning to test its self-driving car software platform in three 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs. The SUVs have already been spotted out on the road fitted with a range of sensors and cameras.

Apple is thought to have several teams working on different aspects of its automotive software. In Canada, a team of two dozen former BlackBerry QNX customers are said to be developing the base operating system, while another team is working on the software that will run on it, such as a heads-up display and self-driving capabilities.

A report by Bloomberg last October claimed Apple could return to developing its own vehicle in future, or partner with existing carmakers, but given Cook's latest comments, any prospect of an Apple Car seems some way off, at least for now.

"We'll see where it takes us," Cook told Bloomberg most recently when asked about the chances Apple could one day make its own vehicle. "We're not really saying from a product point of view what we will do."

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Apple’s Self-Driving Car Spotted on Freeway in New Video

For the last few weeks, Apple has been testing its autonomous driving software in three Lexus RX450h SUVs, which have been photographed around the San Francisco Bay Area. This morning, MacRumors reader Andrew was able to capture some video of one of the SUVs, giving us our closest look yet at the vehicles Apple is using to test its system.

The SUV is equipped with multiple sensors and cameras, making it easy to see when it's out on the road. It uses a top-end Velodyne 64-channel lidar, two or more radar, and several cameras to navigate. The video was captured on the 101 North, with Apple's vehicle exiting towards University Avenue in Palo Alto.


Apple received a DMV permit to test autonomous vehicles on April 14 and wasted no time getting the cars out on the road. With the SUVs, which are driven by six Apple employees with expertise in autonomous vehicles, Apple is testing a self-driving vehicle system it has in development.

The company has been working on self-driving car technology for several years and was originally rumored to be planning to introduce its own Apple-branded vehicle. That didn't pan out, however, and Apple pivoted to an autonomous driving software platform being developed under the leadership of Bob Mansfield.

Apple has reportedly given its car team until the end of 2017 to prove the feasibility of an Apple-designed autonomous driving system. Such a system could allow Apple to partner with vehicle manufacturers for something akin to a much more advanced version of CarPlay, or it could be built into a future Apple vehicle should Apple decide to revisit manufacturing its own car down the road.

While Apple is notoriously secret, its ongoing autonomous car testing will be done under the public eye. In California, companies that participate in the Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program must file Disengagement Reports that share many details on the testing process, including miles traveled and any incidents or accidents that occur.

Apple has asked the DMV to alter the rules that govern exactly what data needs to be included in public Disengagement Reports, but it is not yet known if the DMV will comply.

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Apple Maps Vehicles Begin Surveying Connecticut, Imagery Could Aid Apple’s Autonomous Driving Efforts

Apple has updated its website to indicate that its Apple Maps vehicles will begin surveying Connecticut for the first time this month.


For nearly two years, Apple has been driving vehicles around the world to collect data for Apple Maps—widely believed to be street-level imagery. Since 2015, the vehicles have surveyed over 30 states in the United States, in addition to parts of the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Sweden.

Apple said it will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication, suggesting that it could be working on adding a Street View feature to Apple Maps, similar to what Google Maps has offered for several years. But, the imagery and other mapping data could be used for a variety of purposes.

When Apple's fleet of Dodge Caravans first hit the streets, it was speculated they could be the basis of an Apple Car. But those rumors quieted down after the vans were labeled with Apple Maps decals, and because Apple has shifted towards autonomous driving software, rather than an entire vehicle, at least for now.

Moreover, the California Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that Apple is using a fleet of Lexus SUVs, which have since been spotted on the road, to test self-driving software. It's known that Apple's platform currently uses a Logitech wheel and pedals, and drivers can take over manually if necessary.

Nevertheless, so-called Apple Maps vehicles could still be playing a role in the company's autonomous driving plans.

Neil Cybart, an independent Apple analyst at Above Avalon, told MacRumors that Apple Maps vehicles are "very likely capturing mapping data," such as street level imagery, that will aid Apple's autonomous driving efforts.
I don't think these Apple Maps vehicles are just meant to improve Apple Maps. Instead, my suspicion is they are part of Project Titan. Specifically, the vehicles are likely playing a role in building the groundwork for Apple's autonomous driving technology. The data collected by these vehicles may be used for testing autonomous driving technology using indoor simulation.
Cybart, who confirmed seeing an Apple Maps vehicle in Connecticut earlier this week, said the mapping data collected could be a "foundation" for Apple's autonomous driving technology platform.
Apple Maps vehicles are not autonomous cars. Instead, they are very likely capturing mapping data (i.e. imagery) that will aid Apple's autonomous driving efforts. My view is that this mapping data isn't just for Apple Maps Street View, which wouldn't be too useful, but rather for building a mapping foundation for Apple's autonomous driving technology platform.
Connecticut and many other states that Apple has surveyed don't currently allow autonomous vehicle testing on their public roads, so Apple very likely is collecting data only, as it says. Whether that data is used for a Street View feature, autonomous driving software, or both, remains to be seen.


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Apple Asks California DMV to Make Changes to Autonomous Vehicle Testing Policies

Apple has asked the California DMV to alter the rules that require it to publish detailed public reports about the success of Apple's self-driving car tests, according to papers shared by the DMV. If the DMV complies with Apple's request, less information would be included in the reports. [PDF]

In a letter, Apple says it is "investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and goes on to say the company is "excited" about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.

One of the SUVs Apple is using to test its autonomous driving software, courtesy of Bloomberg

The company then proposes that the DMV "amend or clarify" its positions in the areas of disengagement reporting, definitions, and testing without safety drivers. Apple is concerned that inconsistency in how permit holders reports disengagements can lead to media coverage that causes public confusion and misunderstanding. Apple wants disengagement reports to cover times when a driver takes control of a vehicle to prevent a crash or traffic violation, and little else.
Apple suggests the following changes to the disengagement reporting requirements to achieve an objective set of data to accurately and clearly inform the public about the safety of the automated vehicles being tested

A disengagement should be defined as an unexpected event or failure that requires the safety driver to take control of the vehicle in order to prevent a crash or traffic violation.

A disengagement should not be reported for the following:
- Operational constraints where either the safety driver has been trained to disengage the system, or when the system detects the constraint and disengages automatically. For example, a system that requires the safety driver to navigate through a construction zone.
- System errors or failures. For example, a software bug or sensor dropout that does not affect the safe operation of the system.
- Discretionary decisions made by the safety driver. For example, when the safety driver perceives a vehicle is approaching too quickly and opts to disengage the system.
- Any tests that are planned to result in a disengagement.
- The end of a test or experiment.

Additionally, the proposed requirement in §227.50(b)(3)(B)(vi) to describe the type of incident that would have happened without the disengagement should be removed. It requires speculation about future events that have not occurred.
Apple two weeks ago was granted a permit for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, and has already begun to do so. The company has three Lexus SUVs equipped with sensors and cameras, presumably running the autonomous driving software the company has been working on for the last several months. Those SUVs have been spotted on Cupertino roads this week.

By participating in the DMV's Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program, Apple will need to publicly share many details about its testing process, which will make it difficult to keep development on the software under wraps.

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Lexus SUV Being Used for Apple’s Self-Driving Software Test Spotted on the Road

Apple recently obtained a permit allowing the company to test its self-driving software on public roads in several Lexus SUVs, and now Bloomberg has shared details on the equipment Apple is using after one of the vehicles was spotted leaving an Apple facility.

Earlier this week, a white Lexus RX450h SUV was seen leaving an Apple building and was captured in a series of photos by an unnamed source who shared the images with Bloomberg. The vehicle is equipped with multiple sensors, cameras, and radar.

The sensors included Velodyne Lidar Inc.'s top-of-the-range 64-channel lidar, at least two radar and a series of cameras. The sensors appear to be products bought off the shelf from suppliers, rather than custom-made, according to an industry expert who saw the photos.
The vehicle is distinct from the vehicles used for Apple's mapping project, which uses a series of Dodge Caravans to capture data across the United States for the purpose of improving the Apple Maps app.

Apple was first granted a DMV permit to test autonomous vehicles on public roads on Friday, April 14. At the time, a DMV spokesperson said the company had registered three 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs to be driven by six Apple employees with expertise in autonomous vehicles.


Apple's permit application and the appearance of the SUV confirm its work on a car-related project. Rumors originally suggested Apple was developing its own autonomous electric vehicle, but Apple is said to have since transitioned to building an autonomous driving system rather than a complete car.

In California, where Apple is testing its vehicles, companies that participate in the DMV's Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program must file Disengagement Reports that outline how many miles were covered with self-driving vehicles and whether any accidents occurred, so Apple won't be able to keep much of the testing on public roads a secret.

Apple's car team, led by Bob Mansfield, reportedly has until the end of the year to prove the feasibility of an Apple-designed autonomous driving system.

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Apple Autonomous Driving Training Program Confirms Self-Driving Software Platform

Apple has developed a training program to instruct employees on how to handle cars being used to test its autonomous driving software platform, according to documents obtained by Business Insider.

The company's "Development Platform Specific Training" document references an "Apple Automated System" and a "Development platform," alluding to the self-driving software platform Apple is rumored to be building after plans for a full autonomous electric vehicle fell through.

Click to enlarge

Apple recently obtained a permit from the California DMV that will allow it to test self-driving vehicles on public roads, and as part of that process, the company appears to be training employees to use whatever system it's testing. According to the DMV, Apple plans to use three 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs, which will be driven by six drivers with expertise in areas like machine learning.

Based on the documents, drivers are required to pass seven tests as part of their training before being allowed to work with Apple's software platform. Each driver must complete two practice runs and three trials to pass tests, which cover topics like taking control of the vehicle at tight U-turns, sudden acceleration, sudden braking, and more.

Click to enlarge
According to the training packet, Apple's self-driving car uses a Logitech wheel and pedals to actuate drive by wire, and it supports one person at a time.

Pressing the brake pedal or grabbing the steering wheel in Apple's test vehicles will disengage the electronic driving mode, but drivers can accelerate without overriding the "drive by wire" mode.
Apple's work in the car industry has been something of an open secret for the past three years. The company was originally planning to create its own autonomous vehicle, but pivoted to an autonomous driving software platform following internal strife and leadership issues.

Apple is now said to be creating a driving system under the leadership of Bob Mansfield, with the car team having been given until the end of this year to prove the feasibility of a self-driving car platform. Such a system could potentially allow Apple to partner with car manufacturers as a sort of expansion of CarPlay.

With Apple ready to test the software on public roads, it appears development is fairly far along. Should the company take vehicles out on California streets, its work will need to be publicly shared with the DMV based on California law.

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Apple Receives Permit From California DMV to Test Self-Driving Cars

Apple has been granted a permit that enables it to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state of California, according to the California DMV website (via Business Insider).

Apple was added to the list of permit holders that are allowed to participate in the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program in California on Friday, joining companies like Google, Tesla, BMW, Honda, Ford, Nissan, and more.


Obtaining a permit for autonomous vehicle testing requires multiple steps, including outlining details for each specific vehicle being tested, suggesting Apple may have some sort of test vehicle that's road ready. Whether Apple will actually begin testing a vehicle remains to be seen, as some companies sign up and then don't go on to use it, but should Apple begin vehicle testing, public reports will need to be filed.

In California, all companies that participate in the Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program must file Disengagement Reports that outline how many miles were covered with self-driving vehicles, so if Apple does test a vehicle, the information will be shared on the DMV's website.

Apple's acceptance into the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program confirms the company's work on a car-related project. Early rumors suggested Apple was developing its own autonomous electric vehicle, but Apple is said to have since transitioned to building an autonomous driving system rather than a full blown car.

Developed under the leadership of Bob Mansfield, Apple's autonomous driving system could allow it to partner with existing car makers or return to its own car development project in the future. Apple executives have reportedly given the car team until 2017 to prove the feasibility of an Apple-designed autonomous driving system, and its approval to road-test vehicles could be a signal that the project is advancing.

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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Says Trump Administration Will Be ‘Catalyst’ for Self-Driving Tech

In a bid to reassess self-driving car guidances following the Obama administration, the Trump administration's newly appointed Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, said this weekend that she is reviewing the guidances while urging companies "to explain the benefits of automated vehicles to a skeptical public." Chao said that there's a lot at stake in improving and regulating the technology, and ensuring that passengers are safe when they use the new self-driving systems (via Reuters).

The guidances referenced by the Obama administration asked carmakers to voluntarily detail each of their self-driving systems by using a 15-point "safety assessment" precaution. Most regulations were also urged to be looked at by the federal government and taken out of the hands of the states. As a new administration approached last November, automakers concerned about the guidelines -- citing a need to give up "significant data" and likely facing months-long delays in testing -- asked the incoming Trump staff to re-evaluate.

Google tests out its "Waymo" self-driving technology

Earlier in February, automakers faced Congress to request a few legislative changes that they hoped would "speed self-driving cars to U.S. roads." According to Chao, the Trump administration will do everything it can to be "a catalyst" for the industry and not become a blockade to progress in self-driving vehicles. Chao's thesis hit on asking Silicon Valley companies to first and foremost figure out a way to "educate a skeptical public" about why self-driving cars would be a good thing in the first place.
"This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update it and amend it, to ensure that it strikes the right balance.

She said the Trump administration wanted to ensure it "is a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not an impediment. In particular, I want to challenge Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology."
Vehicle automation has become a hot topic over the past few years, and even Apple hasn't escaped the rumors of working on a self-driving vehicle. The hopes for an "Apple Car" have largely been dashed after vans roaming around the country were debunked as data-collecting vehicles for Apple Maps, and any of the company's efforts to build a full Apple Car have since shifted towards focusing on an autonomous driving system. In a letter to federal regulators last year, the company further confirmed its interest in "machine learning and automation" as it relates to motor vehicles, hinting that Apple wouldn't be averse to creating self-driving software that's used in another manufacturer's vehicle.

The letter was sent to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and some of it aligns with other automakers' concerns over the established self-driving guidances. In its letter, Apple referenced an issue with delayed testing for companies entering the automobile industry with automation technology, as well as an agreement that companies should share sufficient data in relation to crashes and near-misses, but it should never come at the expense of breaching privacy.

Both of these suggestions, and a collection of others, are points that Chao aims to evaluate as the administration updates and amends the guidance for self-driving vehicles, "to ensure that it strikes the right balance." The Transportation Secretary also mentioned a concern over potential employment loss in the context of vehicle automation growing, as well as promising to help the Federal Aviation Administration develop drone regulation standards "to ensure that drones can be safely integrated into our country’s airspace."

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

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Apple’s Lisa Jackson Joins Federal Committee Advising on Vehicle Automation

lisa-jackson-appleLisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, has been named as a member of the new Federal Committee on Automation. Announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the committee will act as an advisory panel to discuss and look into "some of the most pressing and relevant matters facing transportation today."

These matters are said to mainly include the development and deployment of automated vehicles. Additionally, the committee will act as a resource for the Department of Transportation as it continues to provide research, policy updates, and regulations on transportation in the U.S., while also helping "advance life-saving innovations."

Its members consist of "leading professionals and experts" in a multitude of fields.
“During my time at the Department, we have fostered some of the most significant technological changes to ever take place in transportation, and we did so while keeping our focus on the safety of the American people,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. ”This new automation committee will work to advance life-saving innovations while boosting our economy and making our transportation network more fair, reliable, and efficient.”
In addition to Lisa Jackson, the Federal Committee on Automation will include Gloria Boyland (FedEx VP), Robin Chase (Zipcar Co-Founder), Rachel Holt (Uber Regional General Manager), Gerry Murphy (Amazon Senior Corporate Council), and various other technology executives, university professors, and automotive industry professionals.

Each member of the committee is said to contribute the "best practices, challenges, and opportunities" they have knowledge of in regards to the future of automation in vehicles. Apple's own interest in autonomous cars was made official in a letter to federal regulators last month, and now it appears that the company will be willing to share its knowledge for the betterment of vehicle automation across the industry.
As technology develops, automation may play a larger role in a number of modes of transportation, including cars, buses, trains, planes, and UAS (drone) systems. This committee will play a critical role in sharing best practices, challenges, and opportunities in automation, and will open lines of communication so stakeholders can learn and adapt based on feedback from each other.
The full list of committee members can be found on the U.S. Department of Transportation's official website.

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Audi and Nvidia Working on Fully Autonomous Car for 2020 Rollout

Audi and Nvidia have announced they are working together to bring a fully self-driving car to the consumer market by the year 2020.

The announcement came on Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the two companies outlined their vision for a fully autonomous vehicle. German automaker Audi hopes to be one of the first automakers to achieve the feat, and is banking on U.S. graphics chipmaker Nvidia's artificial intelligence car computing platform, which uses deep learning to negotiate complex real-road conditions.

small-612-audi-q7-piloted-driving-concept
Audi's Q7 Piloted Driving Concept.
"Nvidia is pioneering the use of deep learning AI to revolutionize transportation," Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said. "Audi's adoption of our Drive computing platform will accelerate the introduction of next-generation automated vehicles, moving us closer to a future of greater driving safety and new mobility services."
To offer a taste of the results of their collaboration, Audi has been demoing its Q7 Piloted Driving Concept, which is fitted with Nvidia's Drive PX 2 processor. The companies claim that after four days of "training", equipped vehicles are able to drive themselves over a complex road course, thanks to the PX 2 chip's ability to learn on the fly without recourse to pre-mapped routes.

Audi and Nvidia have been working together for almost a decade, but the announcement at this year's CES is an indication of just how far the collaboration has come. Originally the partnership was limited to using Nvidia's graphics processors in Audi's virtual cockpit and navigation systems, but ambitions have since grown, and Audi said it will begin expanding its testing of the highly automated, artificial intelligence-equipped vehicles on public roads in California and select states in 2018.

For Nvidia's part, the traditionally GPU-focused company has been working on autonomous vehicle systems for several years now and has rolled out development platforms and agreed partnerships with over 80 automakers and suppliers to realize its self-driving goals. In September the company introduced Xavier, a complete AI system on a chip for self-driving cars that's designed to meet international functional safety standards for in-car electronics.

Apple is thought to have refocused its car project recently. The company has shelved plans to build an electric car for now, and is instead working to build a self-driving software platform for use in vehicles made by established automakers. In December of last year, Apple confirmed its interest in the autonomous car market, in a letter to federal regulators urging them to ensure fair competition and equal rights for "new entrants" in the industry.

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