In Depth

Apple trains staff for driverless car development

Leaked documents reveal safety procedures for the Lexus RX450h test mules

Apple is ramping up efforts on its autonomous car, with leaked documents detailing staff training procedures for the company's development vehicles.

In a training manual posted by Business Insider, Apple's "safety drivers" are tasked with completing seven tests to control the vehicle if the automated systems were to fail. 

The tests reveal that the car's development mules feature drive-by-wire controls, meaning the vehicle's steering wheel and pedals are electronically connected to its onboard systems instead of a mechanical link. 

The electronics giant "applied for a permit for six drivers to drive three Lexus RX450h SUVs", says Business Insider, which are driven using Logitech steering wheels and pedals - often used for racing video games. 

A group of PhD graduates "specialising in machine learning" will trial the autonomous vehicle's systems, adds the website, "some of whom previously worked for companies like Bosch and Tesla". 

Little is known about Apple's venture into the motoring industry, although a handful of automotive personnel hirings, including Tesla's Chris Porritt, all but confirms the company's intent of breaking into the driverless vehicle market. 

Last year, Apple appeared to rule-out building its own car and instead focus on developing a driverless platform for other manufacturers, says MacRumors

However, the website says Apple's motoring team have "been given until the end of this year to prove the feasibility of a self-driving car platform". 

As the leaked document suggests the company is gearing-up to test its autonomous cars on public roads, MacRumors says "it appears development is fairly far along."

Apple confirms self-driving car in development

5 December 2016

Apple has confirmed for the first time that it is developing a self-driving car.

In a letter to US transport regulators, the tech giant said it was "excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation". Self-driving cars would bring "significant societal benefits", it added.

The five-page letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urges the regulator not to introduce unnecessary restrictions on road testing and proposes that companies share data from crashes and near-misses "in order to build a more comprehensive picture than one company could manage alone, and therefore enable the design of better systems", the BBC reports.

Gathering and sharing vehicle data "should not come at the expense of privacy", adds the company, and businesses should invest in systems to prevent the retention of personal data, reports MacRumors.

This is Apple's first official confirmation that it is working on autonomous technology, although it has long been assumed that it is doing so – Ford said its plans to release a self-driving car by 2021 were on the basis the Cupertino giant was also building one. However, recent rumours suggested Apple had scaled back its efforts to focus on driverless systems instead.

Earlier this year, the company appointed Chris Porritt, the former vice president of vehicle engineering at electric carmaker Tesla, to oversee "special projects", says Auto Express.

Porritt worked on all three of Tesla's current electric models along with Aston Martin's One-77 hypercar, the mag adds.

At the moment, Google is leading the field in self-driving cars, having already conducted road tests, while Tesla announced in October that all its new cars will have the necessary hardware to drive on their own, although the technology will not be switched on until software has improved.

Chipmaker Intel has also established a division dedicated to developing driverless systems, appointing Kathy Winter, of global motoring technology supplier Delphi Automotive, to be its vice president. Last year, Winter became the first person to drive across the US using an autonomous vehicle.

Is the Apple Car on a hiding to nowhere?

18 October

Apple's plans to enter the car industry may have changed dramatically, according to a report issued by Bloomberg.

The news agency cites people familiar with the Apple Car project, who have revealed that Apple has "drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions", leading to hundreds of employees being re-assigned or let go.

The report claims that for now Apple's plans to build its own car have been put on hold. Instead the company's involvement in the auto industry will be limited to developing an autonomous driving system only.

The self-driving technologies Apple will develop could be used to strike up partnerships with existing manufacturers, though there's still a distant possibility that Apple will make its own car further down the line.

Bloomberg's two sources have revealed that Apple executives have given engineering teams a deadline of late 2017 to prove the feasibility of Apple's self-driving system. The company will make a final decision about whether to enter the motor industry thereafter.

The remaining members of the Apple Car team are said to be working exclusively on "autonomous programs, vision sensors and simulators for testing the platform in real-world environments".

It's the latest twist in the secretive Apple Car saga – a project Business Insider says is now "wracked with internal strife" and "rudderless". It's believed that a revolving door has opened at the top of the project – this year alone three different people have been reported as Apple Car project heads.

While the company's car fortunes appear to be in flux Apple has never publicly commented on its widely reported plans to make a vehicle. Tesla's chief executive Elon Musk has previously said that the Apple Car is an "open secret", but he doesn't expect to see the technology giant reveal its plans before 2020.

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