Apple Car : One more thing, you will…..

Apple Car ? if your are reading the combination of these two words “Apple and Car” for the first time, then either you are kidding me or you are not from this world. Anyway for those of you from this world, lets find out one more thing. A secret Apple car project rumour is nothing new, it has been there ever since the launch of i pod.

It is well documented fact that Steve Jobs and his design spiritual mate Sir Jony Eve both loves cars (for Mr. Jobs in past tense with all the respect) and even consider to launch a car before I phone. This fact was even confirmed by the man behind i pod Tony Fadell. But some how they did not went there at that time. It was only after four years past his death, that rumours about Apple Car become strong.

The Smoke before fire

The first details on the Apple Car started leaking out at the beginning of 2015 when a mysterious van leased to Apple was spotted driving around streets in Northern California. The van had a camera rig attached to it with multiple cameras, leading to speculation that Apple was using it to develop a self-driving vehicle. But Apple later came out and said the vans were related to a mapping project, but they were undoubtedly the catalyst that led to the discovery of Apple’s secret on a car.

The Special recruits

This first smoke let the cat out of the bag and led several media houses to dig deep into Apple’s plans. And in mid-February, Financial Times learned that Apple was recruiting automotive technology and vehicle design experts to work in a “top-secret research lab.” That piece highlighted Apple’s hiring of former Mercedes-Benz Research and Development exec Johann Jungwirth and pointed out Apple’s efforts to research automotive products.

 When Financial Times and other media sources started speculating that Apple was perhaps developing an advanced software platform to build upon CarPlay only, just then, The Wall Street Journal launched a figurative bomb. Apple was indeed working on creating an electric vehicle, said WSJ.

Project Titan

According to The Wall Street Journal‘s sources, Apple had hundreds of employees working on designing a minivan-like electric vehicle under the code name “Project Titan.” Steve Zadesky, Apple VP of Product Design was leading the project under Dan Riccio, and was given the go ahead by Apple CEO Tim Cook to recruit upwards of 1,000 employees, many from within Apple.

Left-Right : The confusion

As Apple’s car team started exploring a wide range of technologies. That includs silent motorized doors, car interiors sans steering wheel or gas pedals, augmented reality displays, an improved LIDAR sensor that protrudes less from the top of a car, and spherical wheels. This Led to a confused vision for the car and executives disagreed even on major points like whether the car should be autonomous or semi-autonomous. This leads to delays and internal strife. As a result, in early 2016, Steve Zadesky announced plans to exit the project.  In July of 2016, former Apple exec Bob Mansfield, who had retired from Apple in 2012, returned to Apple Car project.

A new direction

After Mansfield began heading up the project in the summer of 2016, Apple’s car strategy shifted towards the “underlying technology” for autonomous vehicles rather than actually building an automobile. Some how seems to be the case as hundreds of employees have left the company or have had their talents redirected in 2016.

An autonomous driving system provides Apple with opportunity to partner with other companies in the future or go back to building its own car, leaving the door open for a return to the car project.

Car or No car

In June of 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke publicly about Apple’s work on autonomous driving software,

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems. It’s a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.” — Apple CEO Tim Cook on Apple’s plans in the car space.

All this seems to indicate that Apple has moved beyond Apple car. but……….

Apple might not want to repeat the 90s mistake

It is well known fact that in nineties Apple shared its Macintosh software with other hardware manufactures to increase its profits. But in reality it led to erosion of its customer base as they were getting a much cheaper mac. It almost put Apple on the Verge of Bankruptcy. When Steve Jobs returned to company first thing he did,was to stop this practice. Since then Apple remains in complete control.

But what about Apple Car Play? It is a software for cars? agreed. And third parties use it? agreed. But it can work with I phone only. In nutshell it is one more selling point for the I phone. More like a glorified mirroring software.

The Permit

As of early 2017,  Apple was granted a permit from the California DMV to test self-driving vehicles on public roads. And is testing its self-driving car software platform in several 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs leased from Hertz. The SUVs have been spotted out on the road with a host of sensors and cameras starting in April.

The battery Problem

Apple is also said to be working with Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited on automotive battery research and development. CATL is the world’s third largest manufacturer of hybrid and electric vehicle batteries. But what Apple is working on with the company remains unknown.

The engine Noise

Rumors are even suggesting that Apple employees are working on the project at a top secret location in the Bay Area.  Apple officially leases several known buildings at the Sunnyvale location, but it is also said to be operating out of a shell company at the site, SixtyEight Research. SixtyEight Research claims to be a market research firm. But has received city permits for the construction of an “auto work area” and a “repair garage,”. And even “motor” noises have been heard from the spot late at night by the neighbours.

Building plans Apple filed with city officials suggest the company’s Sunnyvale facility, codenamed “Rhea,” is being used for something car related, with references to automotive terms like “lube bay,” “wheel balancer,” “tire changer,” and “wheel sensor.

One more thing: Apple Car will be Autonomous

The company has just published research by computer scientists about  a new software technology called VoxelNet that helps a car’s on-board computers detect objects around the vehicle. Apple said its software delivered “highly encouraging results” in identify pedestrians and cyclists.

Apple Car

Apple’s proposed AI system would find the patterns that indicate the things to avoid. Such a person, bicycle, or another vehicle. And the patterns for open roadway, safe to traverse.  Apple’s method, would use a deep neural network to group the data points into simple boxes. Foregoing more complex efforts to accurately calculate every swoop and curve of the complex data cloud.

All this means a simple looking Lidar with lot less parts.

The conclusion

It seems that software part is well on and track. And as for the hardware part, Apple can opt for number of things.

  1. Car buy any Car OEM as it has plenty of cash to spend. There were rumours that Apple might buy Maclern.
  2. Outsource the production just like Jaguar doing with I-pace.

But my bet is that Apple is looking the

  • Market for electric and autonomous cars to mature
  • And enough infrastructure is in place and
  • Regulations around world are feasible around the world

And then makes its move. Anyway apple is not known as first mover. For more car news keep reading the Autolane



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