Tech giant Apple has taken its first major step towards building its very own driverless cars. The company is in contact with multiple suppliers of self-driving car sensors called lidars and is on the search for “cutting edge” sensors.
Origination Of The Apple Car
The idea of the Apple car originated back in 2013 when the company was supposedly working on a project which it later decided to pause. The iPhone manufacturer then started testing its robotaxi technology on public roads in California in 2017 and has continued to do so. The first version of the test cars was modified Lexus SUVs which also used a lidar stack up manufactured from off-the-shelf parts.
Team Behind The Car
Rumors started earlier this year again that Apple was working on a self-driving car. It is said that the project was previously being led by Apple engineer Bob Mansfield and key Apple manager Benjamin Lyon. Lyon supervised work on the upcoming car’s hardware and is said to have left the company earlier this week to pursue a space and satellite startup. It remains uncertain whether Lyon’s absence would have any effect on Apple’s progress on delivering a commercially viable car.
For developing the car, Apple has a designated team of car interior, body, drivetrain, and battery experts working together to eventually launch the car. According to Bloomberg, the staff of the company believes that it would take at least five years to launch the Apple car.
The Trending Lidar Technology
The laser-based lidar technology helps vehicles “see” around themselves. It works by emitting invisible laser lights that scan and identify surrounding objects, resulting in a 3D image on a display screen. As the EV industry grows rapidly, so does the demand for lidar companies. At least half a dozen of such companies have taken the public route through reverse mergers over recent months. They raised billions of dollars by grabbing investor appetite who continue to bet on growing future demand for electric, self-driving cars.
The technology is used by leading players in the driverless vehicles market, including Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise. Shares of lidar manufacturers climbed on the news. Luminar Technologies rocketed 8.9% to $35.75 (RM144.39) while Velodyne Lidar jumped 4.7% to $21.89 (RM88.41). Apple climbed 0.8% to $130.71.
Apple’s Combination Of Sensors
In a white paper issued in 2019, Apple explained that its sensory perception technology works by identifying the location of the car in the world and helps in identifying and tracking surrounding objects including vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. It revealed that this is done by using a series of sensors including lidar, radar, and cameras, giving a high-resolution 360-degree 3D view of the surrounding.
Previous Uses Of Lidar
The Apple car is not the first product that the company will be using lidar in. The previously launched iPad Pro was packed with lidar last March and the technology was expanded to the iPhone 12 Pro released last fall. The laser technology enhances low-light photography while improving the augmented reality (AR) experience for consumers.
Development Of The Apple Car
According to Reuters, the Cupertino, California-based company was in talks with lidar suppliers in 2019, but the electric car project was completely rebooted later. Now that the company has spent several years on the project, it has developed most of the required software, underlying processors, and artificial intelligence algorithms.
Just as it did with its flagship product, the iPhone, Apple is supposedly planning to outsource critical hardware parts for the self-driving vehicle project from external vendors. It was previously rumored to be in discussion with Hyundai and Kia Motors, however, there have been no further developments until now. The current talks with lidar suppliers show that the tech company is mulling a variety of options and is moving towards developing the car design.
Competition In The Self-Driving Cars Market
Apple’s driverless car has improved as compared to several years ago but still falls behind competing cars. Last year, Apple’s test cars were able to drive over 18,800 miles in California and needed a human driver to take control every 145 miles.
The numbers are almost incomparable to Waymo and Cruise. Waymo drove 628,839 miles with a human driver having to take over every 30,000 miles while Cruise drove 770,000 miles with a disengagement every 28,520 miles. The biggest competitor for Apple will be the EV leader Tesla which has already started rolling out.
Despite being late to the party, Apple’s disruptive potential in addition to its design focus could result in an EV offering that could compete with Elon Musk’s Tesla.