Apple's self-driving testbed spotted in Silicon Valley

Posted:
in General Discussion edited April 2017
Apple's self-driving technology testbed, an optimized Lexus RX450h SUV bristling with an array of advanced sensors, was spotted driving on Silicon Valley roads on Thursday, offering the first real-world look at the company's highly secretive autonomous vehicle project.




Photos and a short video showing Apple's RX450h were sent in to Bloomberg after a tipster saw the vehicle leaving an Apple facility.

The images fail to offer much in the way of new information, but provide insight into the technology Apple is using to test its self-driving hardware and software suite. For example, a Velodyne LiDAR 64-channel unit is mounted on the SUV's roof, while radar arrays are positioned on the front and rear bumpers. Multiple cameras, mounted in protective housings along the car's exterior, likely offer a near 360-degree view of the vehicle's surroundings.

As can be expected, Apple's testbed compares nicely to other self-driving car platforms currently in testing by Google and Uber. Those vehicle systems also include some form of LiDAR, positional sensors and cameras aplenty.




Reports last week revealed Apple's Autonomous Vehicle Tester (AVT) Program Application, which was filed and subsequently granted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Of note, the document contained a copy of the evaluation process Apple used to certify six drivers who will pilot the three modified 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs.

AppleInsider later received a full copy of the application, which notes all six test pilots passed the evaluation process and were thus ready to take the RX450h on the road.

Interestingly, photos of the evaluation model revealed Apple was at one point using a Logitech steering wheel and pedals to perform drive-by-wire controls. That hardware is not present in the test vehicle seen today, meaning the configuration was only for evaluation purposes or the company has integrated the technology with Lexus' onboard systems.

Apple has long been rumored to be working on autonomous vehicle technology under its "Project Titan" initiative. A branded car was part of the initiative's original plans, but the company abandoned the aggressive goal in late 2016 after the project hit a number of snags. Formerly led by Steve Zadesky, Project Titan was later handed over to SVP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio and then to longtime executive Bob Mansfield. Under Mansfield, the team was whittled down and efforts refocused to self-driving software and supporting hardware.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,171member
    Apple is said to be using off-the-shelf hardware and electronics on their vehicles rather than anything Apple has designed for testing which suggests that they're working on the software side rather than building a car at this point. 
    SoliB3BADASSanton zuykovsphericalbertt
  • Reply 2 of 52
    davendaven Posts: 626member
    Why are companies doing the tests with the newer solid state lidar equipment? Is is less accurate? Less reliable?
  • Reply 3 of 52
    They've downgraded from the Lexus RX540h. Disappointed.  :D
  • Reply 4 of 52
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,030member
    gatorguy said:
    Apple is said to be using off-the-shelf hardware and electronics on their vehicles rather than anything Apple has designed for testing which suggests that they're working on the software side rather than building a car at this point. 
    I think you might be right. I'd have thought their test vehicles would've had integrated HW that would be virtually unnoticeable, like other vendors.
  • Reply 5 of 52
    I would just like to hear what the perceived market opportunity here is ...?

    Is Apple considering some Android-esque approach to future vehicle autonomous operating systems where they sell software to the hardware manufacturers?

    I'm a major Apple fan, but Tesla is my dog in this particular fight.
    edited April 2017 B3BADASS
  • Reply 6 of 52
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,297member
    I would just like to hear what the perceived market opportunity here is ...?

    Is Apple considering some Android-esque approach to future vehicle autonomous operating systems where they sell software to the hardware manufacturers?

    I'm a major Apple fan, but Tesla is my dog in this particular fight.
    What hardware manufacturer is going to buy Apple software? And wouldn't that be a complete 180 from Apple's current business model? Isn't Apple all about the tight integration of hardware and software.
    B3BADASSh2p
  • Reply 7 of 52
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,030member
    I would just like to hear what the perceived market opportunity here is ...?

    Is Apple considering some Android-esque approach to future vehicle autonomous operating systems where they sell software to the hardware manufacturers?

    I'm a major Apple fan, but Tesla is my dog in this particular fight.
    What hardware manufacturer is going to buy Apple software? And wouldn't that be a complete 180 from Apple's current business model? Isn't Apple all about the tight integration of hardware and software.
    Mostly, but Apple does have a long history of building SW for HW and OSes they don't control.
  • Reply 8 of 52
    Soli said:
    Mostly, but Apple does have a long history of building SW for HW and OSes they don't control.
    The only thing I can think of is iTunes for Windows, and I try pretty hard to *never* think about that.

    Even the version of BSD they use as the base for OS X is forked.


  • Reply 9 of 52
    dr. xdr. x Posts: 280member
    a short video is mentioned in the article but can't seem to locate it.
  • Reply 10 of 52
    yojimbo007yojimbo007 Posts: 1,144member
    Is that Tim driving ... lol.;)
  • Reply 11 of 52
    bigmikebigmike Posts: 262member
    Just another step in auto evolution. Most, if not all, cars will have autonomy. Probably offered as an option at first but eventually it will be standard in all vehicles. It will be a matter of choice by the purchaser which vehicle they think looks cool vs how well the OS and system works. Just like computers.

    Of course, we'll have some people outraged that they won't be able to drive it themselves. On the other hand, many people can't drive but the autonomous vehicles will probably make traffic go smoother and save some lives – after all the kinks are worked out. There always will be glitches in the system though. It will become the norm, though. People will get used to hearing about someone getting hurt/killed in a car accident that was the "car's fault". The law will be ridiculous by then, as well.

    I can only imagine protests and lawsuits (or not) because people will want to take the steering wheel for themselves. Imagine someone in jail because they wanted to drive a car! Whoa... what a trip....
  • Reply 12 of 52
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,030member
    Soli said:
    Mostly, but Apple does have a long history of building SW for HW and OSes they don't control.
    The only thing I can think of is iTunes for Windows, and I try pretty hard to *never* think about that.

    Even the version of BSD they use as the base for OS X is forked.


    There are probably many others, but these are the ones off the top of my head...

    Windows: 

    iTunes
    QuickTime
    iCloud sync
    Safari
    iPhone Configuration Utility

    Android:
    Apple Music
    Beats Pill+
    Move to iOS

    Motorola ROKR:
    iTunes music app

    Clones:
    Mac OS for I'm not sure how many vendors

    Open Source:
    Darwin
    WebKit
    Swift
    ResearchKit
    Bonjour

    It's certainly not Apple's business model to write SW for other vendors, but it does happen. I'd bet Apple's SW is on more non-Apple HW than there are examples of Windows building HW that runs one of their OSes.
    bb-15retrogusto
  • Reply 13 of 52
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 2,274member
    bigmike said:
    Just another step in auto evolution. Most, if not all, cars will have autonomy. Probably offered as an option at first but eventually it will be standard in all vehicles. It will be a matter of choice by the purchaser which vehicle they think looks cool vs how well the OS and system works. Just like computers.

    Of course, we'll have some people outraged that they won't be able to drive it themselves. On the other hand, many people can't drive but the autonomous vehicles will probably make traffic go smoother and save some lives – after all the kinks are worked out. There always will be glitches in the system though. It will become the norm, though. People will get used to hearing about someone getting hurt/killed in a car accident that was the "car's fault". The law will be ridiculous by then, as well.

    I can only imagine protests and lawsuits (or not) because people will want to take the steering wheel for themselves. Imagine someone in jail because they wanted to drive a car! Whoa... what a trip....
    That will never happen where every vehicle available on the market is autonomous. There will always be people driving vehicles. 
  • Reply 14 of 52
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,575member
    gatorguy said:
    Apple is said to be using off-the-shelf hardware and electronics on their vehicles rather than anything Apple has designed for testing which suggests that they're working on the software side rather than building a car at this point. 
    Maybe. But when iphone was under development the hardware and software teams were isolated -- initially the software guys used rudimentary placeholder hardware and has no idea what it would be loaded onto. 
    Soliirelandcornchip
  • Reply 15 of 52
    That guy in the Honda is reading a book! How long do the lights stay on red there?!  :o :p
  • Reply 16 of 52
    colinngcolinng Posts: 115member
    There's no need for Apple to show off its hardware at this point. Fully autonomous vehicles are years out in spite of what some CEOs of certain companies say, or all the tech buzz. Reminds me of when "hover boards" which never actually hovered and certainly weren't boards, were being talked about. Everywhere. Ridiculous. 

    The state of AI doesn't Peter out for fully autonomous vehicles. And then the question is - what's the point of a partially autonomous vehicle? It's more work to review (and know when the machine is about to make an error) than it is to... simply drive. I'd venture to say it is safer if the driver felt fully responsible for their safety - rather than be half asleep, than to be in a partially automated vehicle. 

    I think Apple knows this too, so they will continue to carry out R&D and meticulously compare AI decisions with human decisions, and refine the AI. Which will take years. Once they are close to completion then they can get back into making hardware - this time for a completely autonomous vehicle. 

    Just like the iPhone ditched the plastic button keyboards, scroll wheels and balls, hardware focus cameras, styluses, memory cards, and even headphone jacks, the Apple Car, driven by carOS, could ditch lot of things: Steering wheels, pedals, gear selectors, parking brakes, horn, instrument cluster, dashboard, engines, jumper cables, bumpers, mirrors, sun shades, forward facing main windshield, forward facing seats, etc.

    But the hardest part is the software - and their modified cars are adequate for the development they need to do. 

    This will be the hardest thing they've ever done. It can't launch like Apple Maps. It has to be perfect on day one. And it's so doable by a company like Apple that has such bright dedicated people working together. 
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 17 of 52
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    Please stop saying Apple abondoned its car project. This is unproven and I would argue logically false. Apple, of all companies, doesn't work on self-driving without working on a vehicle. They just don't.
    slprescottcornchip
  • Reply 18 of 52
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    gatorguy said:
    Apple is said to be using off-the-shelf hardware and electronics on their vehicles rather than anything Apple has designed for testing which suggests that they're working on the software side rather than building a car at this point. 
    No, it suggests the software is more important than hardware when it comes to self-driving. There's no way in hell they have abandoned their car project. Car companies wouldn't let Apple take over their car in that way and Apple are the most vertical company their is with the best hardware team in the world, several of whom are ex-car designers and most of whom have a passion for cars and they hired hundreds and hundreds of car engineers, not for shits and giggles. In time that Bloomberg story is proven inaccurate. Apple like people outside Apple, and especially the press, believing this story. 
    edited April 2017
  • Reply 19 of 52
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    I would just like to hear what the perceived market opportunity here is ...?

    Is Apple considering some Android-esque approach to future vehicle autonomous operating systems where they sell software to the hardware manufacturers?
    No. Apple are building a car and the press were successfully misled.
  • Reply 20 of 52
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    bigmike said:
    Just another step in auto evolution. Most, if not all, cars will have autonomy. Probably offered as an option at first but eventually it will be standard in all vehicles. It will be a matter of choice by the purchaser which vehicle they think looks cool vs how well the OS and system works. Just like computers.

    Of course, we'll have some people outraged that they won't be able to drive it themselves. On the other hand, many people can't drive but the autonomous vehicles will probably make traffic go smoother and save some lives – after all the kinks are worked out. There always will be glitches in the system though. It will become the norm, though. People will get used to hearing about someone getting hurt/killed in a car accident that was the "car's fault". The law will be ridiculous by then, as well.

    I can only imagine protests and lawsuits (or not) because people will want to take the steering wheel for themselves. Imagine someone in jail because they wanted to drive a car! Whoa... what a trip....
    That will never happen where every vehicle available on the market is autonomous. There will always be people driving vehicles. 
    Did someone say never.
    cornchiprandominternetperson
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