Apple has joined the likes of Tesla and Waymo, the self-driving research subsidiary of Google, in the race to make self-driving cars an everyday reality. A prototype of Apple’s autonomous drive system was recently spotted in California, close to the tech giant’s headquarters in Cupertino.
- Apple has been rumored to be working on autonomous drive sensors and, perhaps, even a fully self-driving car.
- The potential for an Apple iCar is low, however. The automobile industry is notoriously difficult and complex.
- The Apple prototype spotted in Cupertino is based on a Lexus RX luxury SUV.
Based on photos recently taken of Apple’s self-driving research vehicle, it looks like the Silicon Valley tech firm has a taste for the good life. The images, first published at the blog The Last Drivers License Holder, shows a Lexus RX sport-utility with a rectangular sensor array mounted on its roof.
The Apple self-drive prototype seen here has its sensors mounted in one array located on the roof of the Lexus SUV. (Photo: Jens Lehmann)
Little is known about Apple’s intentions in the world of autonomous drive technology, other than the fact the company has been making subtle moves forward – and sometimes, a few steps back. Widely known as Project Titan, Apple’s self-drive working group shed nearly 200 employees early this year. That reduction of staff hinted Apple was leaning more towards developing self-drive sensors and software, not its own dedicated vehicle.
However, in the meantime Apple has quietly been adding more autonomous drive experts to its ranks, including Tesla’s VP of engineering. Apple also recently purchased Texas-based self-drive startup, Drive.ai. The small firm operated free autonomous drive shuttles in Arlington, Texas, and was reportedly close to folding before Apple stepped in. The move was widely seen as a way for Apple to access Drive.ai’s self-drive technology know-how and engineering talent.
In regards to the prototype spotted in California, the vehicle bears more than a passing resemblance to the Chrysler minivan-based test vehicles currently being used by Waymo. Using the Chrysler Pacifica as its base, Waymo’s self-drive vehicles also places the majority of its sensor array on the roof of the vehicle.
Waymo’s own prototypes also have a large sensor array mounted on the roof of the vehicle. (Photo: Waymo)
With Waymo already operating a self-drive ride-share service in the Phoenix area, and recently getting permission to conduct similar tests in California, it’s likely Apple won’t be far behind when it comes to pushing for broader – and more visible – test regimes.
With this in mind, an anonymous contributor to The Last Drivers License Holder managed to capture a short video of Apple’s self-drive SUV in action. A ‘driver’ is seen behind the steering wheel, but it’s impossible to say for certain whether the car was under computer or human control when it was filmed in action.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Apple is literally becoming more visible as it pushes its own brand of self-driving technology. It seems inevitable the tech giant will formally announce its autonomous drive strategy within the next two to three years.