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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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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Tag: businessinsider.com

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