Apple May Be Testing Autonomous Vehicles at Arizona Site

Apple may be leasing a former Fiat-Chrysler vehicle testing site in Arizona for autonomous vehicle research purposes, according to an unnamed source that spoke to Jalopnik.

Apple has reportedly been recruiting automative test engineers and technicians from vehicle proving grounds around Arizona to work at the site, located in Surprise, Arizona, but neither Apple nor Fiat-Chrysler would confirm Apple's presence at the location.

Fiat-Chrysler in the early 2000s used the site to test the impact of hot temperatures on cars and their components. The location is said to contain multiple road surfaces, a high speed oval, steep grades, and areas dedicated to wet weather testing.

A Google Earth image of the test site in Surprise, Arizona, via Jalopnik

It was sold to a developer for $312 million in 2005 as a housing location, but the plans fell through and it has been unused for the past several months. Jalopnik says that records suggest recent activity has been spotted on the site, which has now been leased to a company called Route 14 Investment Partners LLC.

There's no clear link between Apple and Route 14 Investment Partners LLC, but Apple has been known to use shell companies for leasing properties, trademarking, and other purposes.

It would also not be unusual or surprising for Apple to lease an autonomous vehicle testing site, as the company has made it clear that an autonomous system is something that's in the works.

While Apple was originally said to be working on developing a full autonomous electric vehicle, the company's focus shifted to an autonomous driving system in 2016 after the return of Bob Mansfield, who took over the project.

One of Apple's autonomous driving test vehicles

Apple is already testing its autonomous driving system out on public roads using several Lexus RX450h SUVs outfitted with a slew of sensors and cameras.

In June of 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly confirmed Apple is working on autonomous driving systems.

"We're focusing on autonomous systems. 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 actually to work on," he said.

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Apple Shares Research into Self-Driving Car Software That Improves Obstacle Detection

Apple computer scientists working on autonomous vehicle technology have posted a research paper online describing how self-driving cars can spot cyclists and pedestrians using fewer sensors (via Reuters).

The paper by Yin Zhou and Oncel Tuzel was submitted to online independent journal arXiv on November 17, in what appears to be Apple's first publicly disclosed research on autonomous vehicle technology.


The paper is titled "End-to-End Learning for Point Cloud Based 3D Object Detection", and describes how new software developed by Apple scientists improves the ability of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems to recognize objects including pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.

Self-driving cars typically use a combination of standard cameras and depth-sensing LiDAR units to receive information about the world around them.

Apple's research team said they were able to get "highly encouraging results" using LiDAR data alone to spot cyclists and pedestrians, and wrote that they were also able to beat other approaches for detecting 3D objects that rely solely on LiDAR tech. The experiments were limited to computer simulations and did not advance to road tests.

Apple famously has a secretive research policy and has kept its work under wraps for many years, but over the last 12 months, the company has shared some of its research advancements with other researchers and the wider public, particularly in the area of machine learning.

In December 2016, Apple said that it would start allowing its AI and machine learning researchers to publish and share their work in papers, with the first paper appearing just a few weeks following the announcement.

Additionally, in July of this year, Apple researchers initiated the "Apple Machine Learning Journal", a blog detailing their work on machine learning, AI, and other related topics.

This new policy of openness could help Apple retain employees who do not want to keep their progress a secret, but the latest research into autonomous vehicle technology also lets regulators see that the company is making progress in this area. Last December, Apple told federal regulators it was excited about the technology and asked them not to restrict testing. In April, the company also filed a self-driving car testing plan with California regulators.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has called autonomy "the mother of all AI projects". During an August 2017 earnings call, Cook re-emphasized Apple's deep interest in the technology, and even hinted Apple's work on autonomy could be used for more than vehicles.

Apple has presumably been working on an autonomous driving system since 2014, when rumors of its efforts to create an electric vehicle first surfaced. Apple has now moved away from creating a full vehicle and is said to be focusing on self-driving technology instead.


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Autonomous Vehicle Startup Zoox Snags 17 Former Apple Automotive Engineers

Seventeen automotive engineers who previously worked for Apple left the company to join self-driving startup Zoox following Apple's shift away from developing a full autonomous car, reports Bloomberg.

The group of engineers, who originally came to Apple from several Detroit carmakers and suppliers among other automotive companies, are said to specialize in designing hardware like braking and suspension systems.

One of the Lexus SUVs Apple is using to test its self-driving software

Many engineers who were recruited for Apple's car project left as Apple pivoted away from developing its own autonomous vehicle and instead began work on an autonomous driving system. Under the leadership of Bob Mansfield, the "Project Titan" car team is now developing autonomous software and testing that software out on the road in Lexus SUVs.
The latest exodus to Zoox suggests Apple is less likely to revive ambitions to make a car itself. The engineers found themselves increasingly sidelined and surplus to requirements at Apple, and were hired by the startup in piecemeal fashion in recent months, the people said.
It's not entirely clear yet what Apple plans to use its autonomous driving software for, but the company is exploring options like self-driving shuttles to ferry its employees from campus to campus as part of further testing. In the future, Apple could partner with a ride-sharing company or a car manufacturer to deploy its software.

Zoox, meanwhile, is working on an a full autonomous car in order to create a fleet of autonomous vehicles. The company has raised more than $250 million and has a valuation of more than $1 billion.

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New Apple SUVs With Expansive Autonomous Driving LIDAR Setup Spotted on the Road

Apple has had several Lexus SUVs equipped with sensors and cameras out on the road to test its self-driving software platform since April, but MacRumors reader Amy, who lives near one of Apple's offices in Sunnyvale, California, recently spotted one of Apple's Lexus SUVs with a new LIDAR setup.

Amy sees Apple's autonomous SUVs on a regular basis in the Sunnyvale area, which was previously rumored to be the spot where Apple is conducting all of its "Project Titan" research. The Lexus in question is parked directly outside of Apple's Sunnyvale location.


The vehicle has a different LIDAR arrangement than we've seen previously, with far more sensors and cameras at the top. Apple also appears to have added new Lexus models to its testing fleet. Prior vehicles spotted were 2015 Lexus 450h SUVs, while this vehicle is a 2016 or 2017 Lexus 450h with a new design.


It isn't immediately clear what function the additional LIDAR sensors serve, but Apple is using these vehicles to test its self-driving software platform that's in development. Other LIDAR arrangements have also been spotted atop Apple's SUVs.


As can be seen in the photos and video, there are two main LIDAR setups at the front and the back of the vehicle, each surrounded by four other components laden with sensors and cameras.


The LIDAR systems on the car are designed to send out laser beams to allow the car to accurately detect its surroundings, essentially creating a 3D map of the environment around the vehicle.


GPS sensors allow the car to orient itself relative to its surroundings, helped along by radars located at the front and back of the car to measure distances to objects and wheel sensors to measure wheel movements. Cameras located near the LIDAR sensors let the car detect traffic lights, people, cars, and other moving objects.

It's a highly complex system, and Apple's SUVs are collecting enormous amounts of data every second and then processing it with Apple's unique software to pilot the car.


While Apple is testing self-driving vehicles, there are people in the vehicles at all times ready to take over should something go wrong. The photos we're sharing today clearly depict both a driver and a passenger monitoring the car's progress.

Apple's car project started off with the company planning to develop a complete autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle, but internal strife, leadership issues, and other problems led Apple to shift focus.

Under the leadership of Apple's Bob Mansfield, the company is now working on an autonomous driving platform that could potentially be used in third-party vehicles.

Along with the SUVs, rumors suggest Apple will soon test its self-driving technology in a self-driving campus shuttle designed to ferry Apple employees between different Apple offices in the Bay Area.

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Apple Developing Self-Driving Campus Shuttle Service as Part of Scaled Back Car Effort

Apple is planning to develop a self-driving shuttle service that will transport Apple employees from one building to another as part of its autonomous vehicle efforts, reports The New York Times in a piece that explores why Apple scaled back its car ambitions.

Apple's "open secret" car project shifted focus from a full autonomous vehicle to an autonomous driving system last year, and to test that system, Apple will reportedly use employee shuttles.

One of the Lexus SUVs Apple is currently using to test its autonomous driving software

Called "PAIL," an acronym for "Palo Alto to Infinite Loop," the shuttle program will transport employees between Apple's myriad offices in Silicon Valley. Apple is said to be planning to use a commercial vehicle "from an automaker" paired with its own autonomous driving technology for the shuttles.

Five Apple employees familiar with Apple's car project spoke to The New York Times about the shuttle program and also shared some details about the technologies Apple explored before the project was downscaled from car to software.

When Apple first started exploring car technology under the "Project Titan" name, it hired hundreds of people with expertise in everything from automation to car manufacturing. The team explored a wide range of technologies, including silent motorized doors, car interiors sans steering wheel or gas pedals, augmented reality displays, an improved LIDAR sensor that protrudes less from the top of a car, and spherical wheels.
Apple even looked into reinventing the wheel. A team within Titan investigated the possibility of using spherical wheels -- round like a globe -- instead of the traditional, round ones, because spherical wheels could allow the car better lateral movement.
As has been previously reported, Apple's car project suffered from delays, internal strife, and leadership issues. According to the people who spoke to The New York Times, there was no clear vision for the Apple Car and there were internal disagreements over whether Apple should pursue an autonomous vehicle or a semiautonomous vehicle and what language should be used for the CarOS software (Swift or C++).

Steve Zadesky, who initially led Project Titan but stepped down in early 2016, pushed for a semiautonomous vehicle, while Jony Ive's industrial design team wanted an autonomous vehicle that would "allow the company to reimagine the automobile experience."

Bob Mansfield took over the car project in mid-2016, and the project shifted from vehicle to software. Many members of the hardware team were laid off, but morale is said to have improved under his leadership now that Apple has a clear focus on an autonomous driving system.

Apple is now far enough along in its software development that the company is testing it in several 2015 Lexus RX450h vehicles equipped with a host of sensors and cameras. The vehicles have been out on the roads in the Cupertino area since April. It's not yet clear when Apple plans to expand that testing to encompass the campus shuttles.

Back in June, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke publicly about Apple's work on autonomous driving software in a rare candid moment. "We're focusing on autonomous systems. It's a core technology that we view as very important," he said. "We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It's probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on."

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Tag: nytimes.com

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Tim Cook Says Apple is ‘Very Focused on Autonomous Systems’

It's no secret that Apple is working on an autonomous driving system, thanks to statements from Apple CEO Tim Cook, information published by the DMV, and the presence of Apple's autonomous test vehicles on the road, but during today's earnings call, Cook re-emphasized Apple's deep interest in the technology, and he even hinted Apple's work on autonomy could be used for more than vehicles.

"In terms of autonomous systems, what we've said is that we are very focused on autonomous systems from a core technology point of view," Cook said. "We do have a large project going, and we're making a big investment in this from our point of view."


Cook went on to call autonomy "the mother of all AI projects," a statement he's shared before in an interview with Bloomberg. Cook also hinted that Apple has other autonomous projects in the works beyond a car system.

"Autonomous systems can be used in a variety of ways -- a vehicle is only one, but there are many different areas of it. And I don't want to go any further with that," he said.

Apple has presumably been working on an autonomous driving system since 2014, when rumors of its efforts to create an electric vehicle first surfaced. Apple has now moved away from creating a full vehicle and is said to be focusing on self-driving technology instead.

Since April, Apple has been testing its autonomous driving system in several Lexus RX450h SUVs, which can be spotted on the roads around its Cupertino headquarters.

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Tags: Tim Cook, earnings

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Apple Reportedly Working With Chinese Manufacturer of Electric Vehicle Batteries

Apple is quietly working with Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited on automotive battery research and development, according to Shanghai-based news group Yicai Global.


The report, citing unnamed sources, claims the two companies have signed a confidentiality agreement to work together on a "scheme" related to the field of batteries, but no specific details were provided.

CATL was founded in 2011 as a spinoff of Amperex Technology Limited, said to be the largest battery supplier for Apple's consumer electronics products, so the two companies already have an established business relationship. However, the companies have not publicly confirmed that they are working together.

The company, based in Ningde, China, describes itself as a leader in lithium-ion battery research and development, including battery cells, materials, and recycling. CATL says it currently has more than 3,700 full-time R&D personnel from a number of well-known universities and laboratories around the world.

CATL claims it has been the world's third largest manufacturer of hybrid and electric vehicle batteries for the past two consecutive years, behind Chinese rival BYD and Panasonic, which supplies Tesla with batteries. The company's lithium-ion batteries are used in both passenger vehicles and buses.

The scale of Apple's involvement with CATL remains unknown, but the company has reportedly been testing self-driving vehicle software using a fleet of Lexus SUVs, which have recently been seen on streets in California.

Last year, Apple reportedly abandoned plans for its own electric vehicle, at least temporarily, after reports persisted for nearly two years about the so-called Apple Car, said to have been codenamed Project Titan internally. In recent months, Apple has emphasized its interest in autonomous technologies.

"We're focusing on autonomous systems," said Tim Cook, Apple CEO, in an interview with Bloomberg Television's Emily Chang last month. "It's a core technology that we view as very important."

CATL plans to increase its battery output to 50 gigawatt hours by 2020, which could make it one of the industry's two largest manufacturers. The other, Tesla, expects total output from its Gigafactory in Nevada to reach at least 35 gigawatt hours, with the potential for up to 150 gigawatt hours, by 2020.

The company's other goals by 2020 include significantly reducing battery costs, improving energy density, and increasing the speed of charging. Last year, it demonstrated a 4C fast-charging solution that takes only 15 minutes to charge a lithium-ion electric vehicle battery to the 90 percent level.

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Tags: China, CATL, yicaiglobal.com

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U.S. House Committee Unanimously Approves Measure to Ease Restrictions on Autonomous Vehicles

A United States House panel this morning unanimously approved a proposal that would allow car manufacturers to deploy tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles without adhering to existing auto safety standards, reports Reuters. The legislation would also ban states from implementing and enforcing some driverless car rules as regulators work to create improved federal safety standards for autonomous driving.

Under the terms of the proposal, automakers would be required to submit safety assessment reports to United States regulators, but pre-market approval of autonomous vehicles would not be required.
Automakers would have to show self-driving cars "function as intended and contain fail safe features" but the Transportation Department could not "condition deployment or testing of highly automated vehicles on review of safety assessment certifications," the draft measure unveiled late Monday said.
Companies working on autonomous vehicles, including General Motors, Alphabet, Ford, and Tesla, have been lobbying Congress to pass a federal measure that would pre-empt rules being considered in California and other states that would limit the deployment of self-driving vehicles. The measure preliminarily approved today would let manufacturers subvert the rule requiring autonomous cars to have driver controls, and it would prevent states from setting self-driving car standards for software and safety systems.

One of the Lexus vehicles Apple uses to test its autonomous driving software

The measure was updated last week to add a directive that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to draft new rules for autonomous vehicles within 18 months, but consumer advocacy groups say that the bill needs tweaking to ensure that automakers prioritize safety and do not put consumers at greater risk of a crash.

Apple has its own autonomous driving software in development and would benefit from the relaxed regulations should the bill be passed. Apple has previously asked the California DMV to re-evaluate some of its rules, including those requiring companies to provide detailed public reports about testing variables and results.

Apple CEO Tim Cook in June said Apple considers its work on autonomous driving systems as "the mother of all AI projects." Apple is currently testing its software in several Lexus RX450h vehicles that are equipped with a host of sensors and cameras.

The full committee could vote on the measure as soon as next week, but the U.S. House of Representatives will not consider the bill until it reconvenes in September after the summer recess. Representative Robert Latta, who leads the Energy and Commerce Committee subcomittee overseeing consumer protection, plans to continue considering changes ahead of the full committee vote.

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Apple Working With Hertz on Autonomous Car Testing

Apple's effort to test autonomous vehicle technology in California involves a collaboration with Hertz, the second largest U.S. car rental company, reports Bloomberg.


The disclosure of the relationship between Apple and Hertz came in documents recently released by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The documents note Apple is leasing its small fleet of Lexus RX450h SUVs for autonomous driving tests from Hertz's fleet management group.
The iPhone maker is leasing Lexus RX450h sport-utility vehicles from Hertz’s Donlen fleet-management unit, according to documents released recently by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. When Apple received its license to test three autonomous vehicles from the state’s DMV in April, the documents listed Donlen as the lessor and Apple as the lessee.
Hertz's stock price is up nearly 15 percent on the news, as investors speculate about a larger partnership between the two companies as Apple's project moves forward.

The news comes as Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo has announced an agreement with Avis Budget to manage Waymo's fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

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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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Tag: bloomberg.com

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