Consumer Tech News

Here is your first look at Apple’s self-driving test vehicle

Apple, Apple Music, iOS

Thanks to Bloomberg, we can now confirm that Apple has started testing its self-driving technology using the hardware and software setup mounted atop a Lexus RX450h crossover.With this sighting, Cupertino has joined the ranks of other tech and automobile giants already conducting trials of their autonomous vehicles on roads of California.

The footage attached underneath comes just a couple weeks after Apple was granted the permit to begin testing its autonomous tech on public roads of California — a major hotbed for such trials. It was passed on to Bloomberg by an observer who spotted this vehicle, littered with a variety of sensors and hardware accessories, exiting the company’s facilities and facing the traffic in Silicon Valley.

As can be seen in the footage attached above, which shows the complete vehicle, the Lexus SUV seems to be covered with numerous third-party hardware. Yes, third-party being of significance in this scenario as Apple had rescinded its plans of building a self-driving vehicle itself.

But, the Cupertino giant, very much like Google, had decided not to dip its toes in the automobile industry but is joining hands with willing automakers (which accounts for almost everyone) to test its software technology. Apple has surely shifted its strategy, but it had conducted talks with vehicle makers  — Volkswagen and BMW — to license its technology out to them. It still plans to follow the said strategy but the partners are undecided at this instant.

This scaled-back form of Project Titan, the company’s rumored self-driving initiative, has been spotted on roads and it can be seen sporting ‘off the shelf’ sensors and cameras. The extensive collection of sensors bordering the vehicle, on the top, front and behind, have been provided by Velodyne. The company hasn’t developed its own custom hardware, like Google did. Its self-driving division Waymo is now embroiled in a legal battle with Uber for patent infringement.

This includes top-of-the-line 64-channel LiDAR sensor mounted atop the vehicle and an array of camera and sensors that’ve been mounted on outfitted brackets. These enable the vehicle to observe its surroundings, sending collected data to the complementing software to decide the driving route. This data is extremely necessary and important as it helps improve the self-driving system that has been developed by the company.

Now, you can find Californian streets crowded with autonomous test vehicles from over 25 tech and auto giants. But, there is still a lack of proper rules and regulations that define the functioning of these vehicles amid the traffic. Uber had once been kicked off the roads for not co-operating and purchasing a license for operating its self-driving vehicles in the state. It took the trials to Arizona but has now returned to California after picking up the permit.

Thus, Apple’s request for the permit had been accompanied with a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in which it provided some pretty strong hints that it might be working on self-driving tech. This letter was not particularly a bolt from the blue. In the same, Apple said that it 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.

Earlier last week, several internal documents leaked and hinted at testing procedures developed by Apple that would act as failsafe controls during autonomous vehicle testing. An engineer will always be behind the steering wheel to observe numbers and keep a close check on the self-driving vehicle — to take control if need be. While the driver has already gone through seven tests to attain a spot behind the wheel, still this system will help further the security and safety on road.


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