AI, Articles, Level 5 Autonomous Driving, Sensor Fusion

Finally: Apple is ready for Autonomous Driving

In the past months there was much speculation whether Apple is building an autonomous car. Here is a brief chronology of the events.
Since 2015 rumors persist that Apple is conducting research in the area of driverless vehicles. The company took its first steps in the sector with CarPlay, a smartphone integration system connecting a supported vehicle to a compatible iPhone and the counterpart to Google’s Android Auto. Apple always seemed to have plans for more but never confirmed officially that they are working on a self-driving vehicle – until now.

From CarPlay to iCar?

In the beginning of 2015 it became known that Apple worked and patented a gesture control system. The first experts started to consider Apple a future contender in the autonomous driving sector, as Google and Baidu were heading in the same direction. During the following months there have been sightings of Apple vehicles in San Francisco. Those were equipped with camera and LiDAR systems in order to collect and improve Apple’s 3D mapping material. More rumors emerged around a possible “iCar”, an electric vehicle that should enter competition with Tesla.

Project Titan

In March 2015 the name of a new project was revealed: Project Titan. Moreover Apple registered new products in Switzerland and established brands dealing with vehicles and corresponding hardware. Even ships and planes were mentioned. Next Apple acquired LinX Imaging, an Israeli image processing company and everybody in the community expected Apple to announce the next steps towards an autonomous vehicle. But until September Apple “only” reported the Apple Watch car integration, the distribution of CarPlay among car manufacturers and the development of a Head-up Display (HuD).
Things got more serious when Apple met representatives of the Californian transportation authority DMV. Shortly before the Guardian reported that the company purchased a testing area in Silicon Valley, Go Mentum.Wall Street Journal published a story about Apple’s plans of developing an electric-autonomous car. According to the journal the car should be presented to the public in 2019. In fact Apple poached several professionals from the automotive sector and, for instance, Nvidia.

2016: The Surrender?

In 2016 the project received a severe blow when the department head Steve Zadesky left the company. At a shareholder meeting in March 2016 questions about the project’s future arose. Apple CEO Tim Cook stated: “Do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve, it was so exciting, you weren’t sure what was going to be downstairs? Well, it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while.”
Other US media found out that Apple’s strategy is not about building an entire car but delivering autonomous driving technology. One month later Apple dismissed a lot of employees – many of them had been working on Project Titan. Did the company give up on autonomous driving?

Testing & Licensing

However Apple urged the US government to enable better testing conditions for autonomous vehicles in December 2016. The Neural Information Processing Systems meeting (NIPS) provided evidence that Apple is working on Auto AI. Furthermore Apple patented an AI-based LiDAR scanner and joined an AI consortium in February 2017. It was also reported that the company joined forces with Bosch to develop car parts together. Over Easter Apple received the license to test self-driving vehicles in California. The first tests will take place soon.
The recent developments indicate: Apple is definitely researching on autonomous driving. Supposedly the Californians will concentrate on driverless taxis like many other companies.

About the author:

David Fluhr is journalist and owner of the digital magazine “Autonomes Fahren & Co”. He is reporting regularly about trends and technologies in the fields Autonomous Driving, HMI, Telematics and Robotics. Link to his site: