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Is Apple developing autonomous vehicle technology?

Lucian Vogel 0

Augmented reality. Medical equipment. Apple does more than just make sleek smartphones and really expensive – but powerful! – laptop computers.

Apple also develops autonomous vehicle software. Well, it supposedly does that. The company has not exactly trumpeted its autonomous vehicle project from the rooftops.

And Apple really isn’t kind of company to reveal what it’s working on. We learned that the hard way, having predicted that the company’s new MacBook would come in matte black. Sadly for us – and the world – we were wrong.

Or think about those companies that make iPhone cases in anticipation of a new iPhone release – and guess the wrong specs. This actually happened. Flexport reported that a case manufacturer went out of business after creating 50,000 cases for a leaked iPhone design that never materialized.

But anyway, unlike iPhones, the Apple autonomous vehicle project is pretty much its worst-kept secret out there. And now the not-really-secret project is even more not-secret.

The Devil of autonomous vehicles is in the vague details

Last week, the tech giant sent a letter commenting on recent federal guidelines for autonomous vehicle deployment. The letter said that Apple is “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”

Sounds like autonomous vehicle development to me. What else Apple is going to use machine learning for is anyone’s guess.

The federal guidelines  in question basically outline proposals for vehicle performance requirements, a model state policy, and proposed new federal authorities to help roll out autonomous vehicles onto America’s streets.

Apple’s letter is short on many details, but it does say that the company favors a balanced regulatory approach: make sure autonomous vehicles are developed safely and keep enough of a hands-off approach to foster innovation. Autonomous vehicles have been promised to help reduce traffic accidents – the vast majority of which are due to human error. But people seem to be in agreement that robots should be sophisticated enough to make good on that promise.

Apple goes on to stress that the ethical implications of autonomous vehicle software development are crucial. Think of it as the classic trolley problem: should your autonomous vehicle swerve into a gaggle of school children to save your life – or should it prioritize the children over you? Tough questions!

It remains to be seen how Apple’s developers plan to solve all the problems with autonomous vehicles and usher in a brave new world of driverless Ubers carting us around from bar to bar. But rest assured, they’re on it.

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