Apple reportedly learning how to develop self-driving electric cars

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited February 2015
In the latest high-profile claim surrounding Apple's rumored electric car project, Reuters on Saturday cited sources who believe the company has been interacting with automotive suppliers and car manufactures in an attempt to learn how to develop an autonomous car.


One of Apple's sensor-laden vans spotted in the wild.



People familiar with the project are saying Apple is focused on designing an entire vehicle, not just automotive software or individual components. The company is said to be picking the brains of experts in the automotive field, but has expressed no interest in combustion engine technology or conventional manufacturing methods.

Instead, an auto industry source is telling Reuters that Apple is primarily focused at this time on the "software game."

"It's all about autonomous driving," that person say, explaining that there is big money to be made from a software operating system for a self-driving vehicle, in addition to supportive services for autonomous driving like high-definition mapping, car-sharing and electric car recharging services.

It's suggested that Apple may take a similar approach with automobiles that it did with Apple Watch, whereby it consulted Swiss watchmakers early in the process but ultimately pursued a go-it-alone strategy and turned to poaching talent from top watchmaking brands.

The report comes on the heels of a similar claims Friday by other major news outlets, including one from the Wall Street Journal stating that Apple has codenamed the project "Titan," and that "several hundred" employees are part of the development team.

A few hours earlier in the day, a similar missive from the Financial Times claimed that Apple is operating a "top-secret research lab" staffed with automotive executives, including former Mercedes-Benz R&D chief Johann Jungwirth, who joined Apple as a Mac systems engineering leader last fall.

But in its report Saturday, Reuters cited a spokesman for Daimler (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz) as saying that the team of engineers which developed an autonomous car for Mercedes-Benz remains largely intact, and that Jungwirth mainly specialized in integrating smartphone functionality and developing advanced user experiences when he was with the car maker.

Meanwhile, there have also been reports that Apple design chief Jony Ive has been personally involved in recruiting top automotive executives, with Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently revealing that Apple has tried "very hard" to poach engineers from the electric carmaker, offering $250,000 bonuses and 60 percent pay raises.

As more voices add to the chorus of reports on what Apple will or won't do in the automotive industry, readers can review earlier reports and trace the breadcrumb trail on our Apple Car topics page.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 185
    From the link: "A spokesman for Daimler (DAIGn.DE) on Saturday said that the team of engineers which developed the Mercedes-Benz autonomous car remains intact and that Jungwirth was mainly specialized in integrating smartphone functionality and developing advanced user experiences.

    According to Jungwirth's Linkedin profile he joined Apple in September. At Daimler his responsibilities from March 2009 to September 2014 included overseeing Connected Car & UI Telematics, Autonomous Driving, Advanced User Experience Design, Powertrain & eDrive, Advanced Exterior Design and Mercedes Benz style, group research and regulatory affairs, the profile said."
  • Reply 2 of 185
    So far I have read 4 different assumptions with this [I]news[/I].


    [LIST=1]
    [*] Completely false rumor
    [*] Apple is trying to make CarPlay (or its successor) better.
    [*] Apple wants to control the entire dashboard
    [*] Apple is making their own car
    [/LIST]

    It seems unlikely it's completely false, and the arguments for their minivans having gear more inline with self-driving cars over LidAR-based street-level mapping have won me over. So…


    [LIST]
    [*] Can Apple make a self-driving car [U]without[/U] building their own car?
    [*] Would it behoove Apple to get control of the dashboard and other "computers" on-board without directly competing with the major car makers?
    [*] Could a threat of competing directly [I]against[/I] help make the car makers more agreeable to working [I]with[/I] Apple?
    [/LIST]
  • Reply 3 of 185
    solipsismy wrote: »
    So far I have read 4 different assumptions with this news.

    1. Completely false rumor
    2. Apple is trying to make CarPlay (or its successor) better.
    3. Apple wants to control the entire dashboard
    4. Apple is making their own car

    It seems unlikely it's completely false, and the arguments for their minivans having gear more inline with self-driving cars over LidAR-based street-level mapping have won me over. So…

    • Can Apple make a self-driving car without building their own car?
    • Would it behoove Apple to get control of the dashboard and other "computers" on-board without directly competing with the major car makers?
    • Could a threat of competing help make them more agreeable to working with Apple?

    Seems to me the most likely scenario involves Apple testing integration and performance issues across all kinds of vehicles with CarPlay. I just cannot see them actually attempting to get into car manufacturing and sales in the US. Might make more sense in Asia or India?
  • Reply 4 of 185
    Seems to me the most likely scenario involves Apple testing integration and performance issues across all kinds of vehicles with CarPlay.

    1) I think that's the most likely scenario with the given information, but I would still love for them to build a concept car that they show off at a car show. I bet Ive has more than a few ideas given the cars he owns.

    2) Of all the cars that would probably have iPhone owners and want CarPlay, Tesla is absent from supporting their system. I wonder if Apple sees Tesla resistance to CarPlay and their very large touchscreen in the center console as a potential warning that other car makers could follow the "hip" car maker's lead with advanced tech that pushes Apple out of the mix. If that's the case, I'd think a long-term solution to create your own system (even if that means your own car) would be something worth investigating thoroughly.
    I just cannot see them actually attempting to get into car manufacturing and sales in the US. Might make more sense in Asia or India?

    I can certainly see it now that Tesla has shown how it's done, but I'm not holding my breath.
  • Reply 5 of 185
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,020member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post



    It seems unlikely it's completely false, and the arguments for their minivans having gear more inline with self-driving cars over LidAR-based street-level mapping have won me over.

     

    I'm of the opinion that not only is Apple "taking pictures" a la Google's Street View, but they're 3D mapping as well. Basically, "FlyOver" but from the ground. Imagine being in FlyOver mode and swooping down to the street level and being able to see a fairly detailed store front or house or whatever.

     

    However, they could also be using these vehicles to collect data to build a driving simulator of sorts, especially if they wanted to design software for autonomous driving or even just assisted driving. I kind of believe their acquisition of PrimeSense would come into play here, especially object detection and recognition in 3D space.

  • Reply 6 of 185
    rptrpt Posts: 173member



    Quite agree, in my guess Apple is not aiming for the car manufacturing business, but is aiming at developing a a common integrated electronic control system taking care of all diagnostics, control, information and interfacing to electrical car systems far beyond entertainment systems. There are currently a couple of initiatives being run to make standardised systems in similar areas for military vehicles, an my guess is that Apple is aiming at a similar personal car system.

  • Reply 7 of 185
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  • Reply 8 of 185
    rpt wrote: »

    Quite agree, in my guess Apple is not aiming for the car manufacturing business, but is aiming at developing a a common integrated electronic control system taking care of all diagnostics, control, information and interfacing to electrical car systems far beyond entertainment systems. There are currently a couple of initiatives being run to make standardised systems in similar areas for military vehicles, an my guess is that Apple is aiming at a similar personal car system.
    You may be right. But based on the history of car manufacturer's practices, they loathe turning any subsystem over to outsiders. Look at the slow and grudging adoption of CarPlay, not to mention the generic radios that continue to be put into all but premium cars fifty years after the Blaupunkts and Alpines of the world showed them how it's done properly. I would love it if Apple ran my car, but Subaru probably won't.

    For this reason I think it more likely that Apple is aiming to control the whoe widget; that is what they always do. I see a car of some kind. Maybe a "hobby" like ATV?
  • Reply 9 of 185
    solipsismy wrote: »
    So far I have read 4 different assumptions with this news.

    1. Completely false rumor
    2. Apple is trying to make CarPlay (or its successor) better.
    3. Apple wants to control the entire dashboard
    4. Apple is making their own car

    It seems unlikely it's completely false, and the arguments for their minivans having gear more inline with self-driving cars over LidAR-based street-level mapping have won me over. So…

    • Can Apple make a self-driving car without building their own car?
    • Would it behoove Apple to get control of the dashboard and other "computers" on-board without directly competing with the major car makers?
    • Could a threat of competing help make them more agreeable to working with Apple?

    5. Apple is making a LiDAR-based roof-mounted device that will drive your car for you.
  • Reply 10 of 185
    rptrpt Posts: 173member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post





    You may be right. But based on the history of car manufacturer's practices, they loathe turning any subsystem over to outsiders. Look at the slow and grudging adoption of CarPlay, not to mention the generic radios that continue to be put into all but premium cars fifty years after the Blaupunkts and Alpines of the world showed them how it's done properly. I would love it if Apple ran my car, but Subaru probably won't.



    For this reason I think it more likely that Apple is aiming to control the whoe widget; that is what they always do. I see a car of some kind. Maybe a "hobby" like ATV?



    But how many of the systems in a car are developed and manufactured by the car manufacturer, and how many of those systems are actually only specified by the car manufacturer and then developed by subs based on the subs own IP? I sincerely doubt that my car radio, even if it carries the name of the car manufacturer, is actually their own technology, and what is the situation for the other systems in the car, with the exception of the engine and the vehicle platform?

  • Reply 11 of 185
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    From this Reuters story:
    People familiar with the project are saying Apple is focused on designing an entire vehicle, not just automotive software or individual components.

    And from the Financial Times story:
    Sir Jonathan Ive’s team of Apple designers has held regular meetings with automotive executives and engineers in recent months, in some cases trying to hire them. Recent recruits to Apple’s team include the head of Mercedes-Benz’s Silicon Valley R&D unit.
    The lab may be developing an advanced software platform for carmakers to run in their vehicles that builds on its CarPlay infotainment system.

    But people familiar with the company said the background of the people Apple is hiring — including automotive designers and vehicle dynamics engineers — and the seniority of the executives involved suggest an electric car could be in the works.

    “Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay,” said one person who has worked closely with Apple for many years, referring to Apple’s infotainment system. “Today I think it’s a car.”

    From the WSJ story:
    Apple executives have flown to Austria to meet with contract manufacturers for high-end cars including the Magna Steyr unit of Canadian auto supplier Magna International Inc.
    Mr. Cook approved the car project almost a year ago and assigned veteran product design Vice President Steve Zadesky to lead the group, the people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Zadesky is a former Ford engineer who helped lead the Apple teams that created the iPod and iPhone.

    Mr. Zadesky was given permission to create a 1,000-person team and poach employees from different parts of the company, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Working from a private location a few miles from Apple’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino, the team is researching different types of robotics, metals and materials consistent with automobile manufacturing, the people said.

    And from Bryan Chaffin at the Mac Observer:
    I learned last week that Apple has been poaching employees from Tesla. I don't mean the kind of tit-for-tat headhunting that goes on between all Silicon Valley companies (now that the no-poaching agreements are out).
    But what I learned is that Apple has been looking for—and acquiring—the kind of people from Tesla with expertise that is most suited to cars. So much so that I went from being a doubter to a believer almost instantly.

    From another source who travels in more rarified circles than yours truly, I also learned that a lot of people at the top in Silicon Valley consider it a given that Apple is working on a car. This is circumstantial, at best, but if you're going to crowd-source wisdom, you could do a lot worse than polling the C-suite.

    I should add that when I asked one of my sources flat out to put a percentage chance on Apple working on an actual car—rather than some kind of car-related technology—I was told, "80 percent."

    When coupled with everything I've learned since, I'm personally closer to 100 percent.

    Steve Zadesky, who apparently has been tasked to oversee this project is VP of product design and works for Jony Ive. His background is mechanical engineering. If this was just about CarPlay or the dashboard why would a mechanical engineer involved in iPhone hardware be tasked with leading the project? Why would Cook have approved a 1000 person team (I doubt you need 1000 people working on CarPlay), and why would Jony Ive and his designers be meeting with (and trying to poach) designers and engineers from other automotive companies? Seems to me Apple's ambitions go well beyond the dashboard.

    I think where there's smoke there's fire. Interestingly, when the WSJ story broke, Marc Andreessen retweeted it with a "yes yes yes please" comment. He later tweeted that if Tesla can build an EV so can Apple if it wants to. Marc Andreessen is certainly 'plugged in' in Silicon Valley. I doubt he'd comment on a story like this if he didn't believe/know there was something to it.
  • Reply 12 of 185
    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post

    So far I have read 4 different assumptions with this news.

     

    Remember, this is the new “APPLE IS MAKING AN HDTV”. The media hasn’t had a good rumor on which to grab in a VERY long time. They’re going to milk this nonsense for all it’s worth.

     

    Let’s get ahead of the puns.

     

    The steering wheel will be a rounded rectangle.

  • Reply 13 of 185
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post



    So far I have read 4 different assumptions with this news.

     

    1. Completely false rumor

    2. Apple is trying to make CarPlay (or its successor) better.

    3. Apple wants to control the entire dashboard

    4. Apple is making their own car


    It seems unlikely it's completely false, and the arguments for their minivans having gear more inline with self-driving cars over LidAR-based street-level mapping have won me over. So…

     

    • Can Apple make a self-driving car without building their own car?

    • Would it behoove Apple to get control of the dashboard and other "computers" on-board without directly competing with the major car makers?

    • Could a threat of competing help make them more agreeable to working with Apple?


     

    I'm convinced it's 2 or 3, leaning towards 3.

     

    Integrating a system into a car to control your dash or infotainment is pretty straightforward. Building a system for autonomous driving where it has to deeply integrate into the engine, transmission, braking, stability control and steering systems is FAR more complex. Which is why I'm skeptical of the self-driving idea.

     

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post



    2) Of all the cars that would probably have iPhone owners and want CarPlay, Tesla is absent from supporting their system. I wonder if Apple sees Tesla resistance to CarPlay and their very large touchscreen in the center console as a potential warning that other car makers could follow the "hip" car maker's lead with advanced tech that pushes Apple out of the mix.

     

    Have you used the Model S touchscreen? It's garbage. Several manufacturers flirted with having your controls adjustable via a screen or similar (BMW iDrive is one example). They have now gone back to having actual physical controls (rotary dials and buttons). They are far more intuitive, less distracting to the driver, and provide feedback to the operator that they're actually adjusting something.

     

    Climate control is an example. BMW used to have up/down buttons for temperature. Absolute crap. To turn your heat all the way to full (cold weather) requires multiple presses with each press increasing temp by a single degree. Now they have a rotary dial - you can quickly turn it full cold to full hot in an instant, yet it's easy to change temperature by a single degree since you get click feedback in the knob (and also digital display so you can see the exact temperature).

     

    BMW still has climate controls tucked away in iDrive, but the most common functions people need access to quickly are handled by physical controls.

     

    The Models S is the worst possible implementation because they not only have up/down buttons for temperature control, but they are on the touchscreen and are even less useful than the physical up/down buttons BMW (for example) used to have on their cars.

     

     

    Looking at Apple Watch you can tell Apple thinks about details such as this. The Taptic Engine to provide feedback, the digital crown and pressure sensitive touchscreen shows Apple knows a watch that operated the same as a phone isn't going to cut it. I'm sure if they get into some sort of vehicle information system they will be aware of this and it will be a combination of the best aspects of touchscreens, physical controls, voice control and taptic feedback. Not just a monster touchscreen because it "looks" high-tech.

  • Reply 14 of 185
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,429member

    My guess is that Apple has a few automobile-related initiatives including a street mapping as well as CarPlay technology, and that the teams operate autonomously. The recently spotted vehicles are most likely related to one specific team (likely 3D street mapping) and not multiple initiatives.

     

    If Apple were developing an autonomous vehicle, it is highly unlikely that we'd see an early prototype on the streets, based on Apple's long track record of extreme secrecy.

     

    That said, I find it rather unlikely that Apple would be gearing up to design their own automobile (which are low-margin and subject to huge liability exposure). A more realistic scenario would be Apple wanting to "own" the entertainment console, to better integrate their iDevices and cloud services so they can sell more of their high-margin proprietary devices (read iPhone) and useful third-party apps.

     

    It's still possible that Apple is trying to develop an autonomous auto, but perhaps without the primary goal of getting it to market, but to use the experience in helping design other products and services. It is also possible that at some point Apple would release an autonomous vehicle but it could be ten or twenty years in the future, much like the long delay between the Newton and the iPad.

  • Reply 15 of 185
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,373member
    I was skeptical of any actual car development by Apple, but less so when I saw a post on AI yesterday of a stripped down Tesla showing a small drum between the rear axels. That small drum being the 'engine' that goes 0-60 <4 seconds.

    It made me realize that developing a car these days nothing like as complex as in the past in so many ways yet far more in others. What is complicated is the software to make them highly sophisticated yet simple to operate. i.e. making them more than golf carts on steroids like so many current models are. No company is better placed to create the software than Apple IMHO and rest is not rocket science.

    I suddenly start to see the parallel to cars and phones in Apple's eyes. It's not about competing with more of the same but a complete paradigm shift. Traditional car makers, however good, are potentially the Nokia and Motorola of the car industry. The mighty can fall very quickly.
  • Reply 16 of 185
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,119member
    solipsismy wrote: »
    • Can Apple make a self-driving car without building their own car?
    • Would it behoove Apple to get control of the dashboard and other "computers" on-board without directly competing with the major car makers?
    • Could a threat of competing help make them more agreeable to working with Apple?
    It could well have the opposite effect if Apple is truly looking to compete with the traditional automakers. Could be enough for them to even embrace Google's vehicle OS for their own products don't you?
  • Reply 17 of 185

    maybe it's a jetpack.

  • Reply 18 of 185

    An iPod, a phone, an internet communicator, and an automated transportation device.

     

    An iPod . . .  a phone . . .

     

    ARE YOU GETTING IT?

     

    These are not four separate devices.

     

    This is ONE device. And we are calling it...

     

     

    ?????

     

     

    :D

  • Reply 19 of 185
    Hope AAPL buy MBLY, I hold positions in both.
  • Reply 20 of 185
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,373member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    It could well have the opposite effect if Apple is truly looking to compete with the traditional automakers. Could be enough for them to even embrace Google's vehicle OS for their own products don't you?

    Ouch I just snorted my tea in shock ... you are kidding right? I don't think the words 'embrace' and 'Google' will ever be in the same sentence from Apple. Let alone when discussing an OS.
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