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Apple Asks Agency About Autonomous Autos

Tech giant has questions for NHTSA about self-driving cars.

by on Dec.05, 2016

Apple revealed a little more about its automotive interests in a recent letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Unlike Google with its little marshmallow cars scooting around its California campus and the city of Mountain View, Apple has been much more secretive about its automotive ambitions — until now.

The tech giant’s kept “Project Titan” under wraps until a recent letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking a few questions about autonomous vehicle technology.

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The company believes the technology has the potential to “greatly enhance the human experience,” according to the letter filed with the agency on Nov. 22. In the five-page letter, the company had questions about the Obama administration’s proposed self-driving guidelines.

“The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation,” Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, wrote to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.

“Executed properly under NHTSA’s guidance, automated vehicles have the potential to greatly enhance the human experience — to prevent millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year and to give mobility to those without.”

(Feds want to silence smartphones, but amp up electric vehicle sounds. Click Herefor details.)

Looks like this is the closest Apple may get to producing an entire autonomous vehicle, unlike Google.

Kenner praised federal safety officials about portions of the proposed policy, in particular data sharing and ethical considerations. However, he did ask the agency to “amend or clarify” some points about exemptions for testing and development on public roads.

Under the policy regulators would allow established car companies to conduct testing of automated vehicles on public roadways, however, new companies would have to apply for exemptions to do such testing — including Apple.

Kenner felt this gave the automakers an advantage and asked for the agency to “create a fair environment for all companies to make progress toward automated vehicles.” He also asked the agency to revise its safety assessment protocol to make it clear if a company needs NHTSA’s approval to begin testing automated vehicles and made suggestions about the safety assessment process.

(Click Here for more about Apple giving up its automotive dreams.)

Nowhere in the letter, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, does it suggest that Apple is trying to produce a self-driving vehicle. It was one of more than 1,000 letters about the self-driving vehicle policy that included responses from General Motors and Google

The letter appears to support earlier reports that Apple has “drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions” and has even “eliminated hundreds of jobs” even though it has never acknowledged hiring folks for the auto project in the first place.

Instead, Apple, according to several accounts, is concentrating on developing a system for autonomous vehicles that could be sold downstream to one of world’s car companies.

Apple executives have given the car team a deadline of late next year to prove the feasibility of the self-driving system and decide on a final direction, according to Bloomberg News. Representatives from Apple, which in recent years has invented or re-invented major consumer products such as personal computers and mobile telephones, declined to comment.

(Apple may back away from auto manufacturing. Click Here for more.)

The new deadline, which has not been acknowledged by Apple, would appear to be an admission that the automobile industry, with its diverse customer demands, including operating in extreme environments can cripple other types of consumer products, is a tougher nut to crack.

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One Response to “Apple Asks Agency About Autonomous Autos”

  1. Tom Kelley says:

    Awesome alliteration!