It's an open secret that Apple has a team working on a car-related project, but as with many of Apple's projects, the details are scarce. Is it a self-driving car, or just an automated driving system? Will Apple simply buy a car manufacturer?
Read on to find out the latest information about what has been unofficially dubbed the iCar, and what's going on behind the steering wheel at Apple.
The latest rumours revolve around Apple's choice of partner: early in 2021 Hyundai emerged as the hot favourite, but Nissan has since come up the rails as a possible outsider.
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Is Apple building a car?
Apple has a number of projects going on behind the scenes, and at least one of them involves cars.
According to The Wall Street Journal the iCar project is codenamed "Titan".
- Project Titan is an effort to develop autonomous driving systems
- It's unclear whether this project name refers to an actual EV or not
Apple began working on "Project Titan" some time in 2014 and at one point had nearly 1,000 employees developing an electric vehicle at a secret lab near its Cupertino headquarters.
The project has been cursed, if you will, with leadership drama and other problems, which led to Apple pausing it and laying off hundreds of employees. In 2016 it redeployed long-time executive Bob Mansfield to lead the effort. Mansfield transitioned Apple's focus towards an autonomous driving system. The leadership of Titan has moved to Giannandrea's AI and machine learning group.
Hyundai confirmed it was in discussion with Apple on autonomous tech before clarifying its position and saying that Apple was in discussion with other companies, too. However, in early February 2021, it became clear that the discussions were at an advanced stage and that an Apple EV would almost certainly be produced at Kia's Georgia, US plant in a $3.6 billion deal.
Hyundai has already talked about producing Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021 and across the Hyundai-Kia group, already has a range of EVs. Rumours suggest that Apple could use the E-GMP platform developed by the group.
E-GMP is a modular platform, designed specifically for battery-powered electric cars and the advantage that would offer Apple is that it wouldn't have to develop the drivetrain for the car.
However, the talk of a deal with Hyundai-Kia might be premature: there are reports also circulating that Apple has been in discussion with up to six Japanese companies in the automotive industry.
What autonomous tech is Apple developing and testing?
- Work to develop the operating system in Canada
- Testing also took place on Canadian roads
- Apple bought Drive.ai in 2019
- Discussing lidar sensor technology with suppliers
Apple apparently has several teams working on different parts of the software. There's a team in Canada developing the base operating system, for instance. Apple was also granted a permit in 2017 from the California DMV to test self-driving vehicles on public roads using several 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs leased from Hertz.
Apple equipped several of the Lexus SUVs with a range of different sensors running its self-driving software. It's also working on a self-driving shuttle service designed to transport employees between Apple's offices in Silicon Valley.
In June 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed Apple is focusing on autonomous systems and suggested the work could be used for other applications beyond cars. "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," Cook explained.
In June 2019, we found out for sure that Apple was still keen on autonomous movement because it bought Drive.ai, a startup that had been running pilot programmes of autonomous vehicles in Texas. The company ceased operation, but Apple has taken over the vehicles and engineers.
These autonomous rumours have only been bolstered by February 2021 rumours regarding lidar sensors (light detection and ranging), with some sources indicating Apple remains in discussions with multiple suppliers regarding the technology. According to people familiar with the matter, these sensors - the same used in tech like robot vacuums to help determine distances to walls and other objects - will allow the vehicle to "see" its surroundings.
However, the fact Apple is allegedly still discussing the project with multiple suppliers does suggest it's yet to settle on its preferred partner - and could perhaps be considering very customised versions of the sensors. If true, this would support the theory that a finished product is still some years away.
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