Apple ‘excited’ about driverless cars – asks for equality with big car makers

Apple has publicly revealed its interest in driverless cars in a letter written to America’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The iPhone maker says it is “excited about the potential of automated…transportation” in a five-page open letter penned by Steve Kenner, Director of Product Integrity at Apple. The letter describes Apple’s ongoing interest in self-driving vehicles, explaining:

“Apple looks forward to collaborating with NHTSA and other stakeholders so that the significant societal benefits of automated vehicles can be realised safely, responsibly, and expeditiously.”

The letter continues:

“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. 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.”

Apple makes a number of requests in the letter, most notably that new entrants to the industry – like Apple – should be treated equally to long-time car makers, to “maximise the safety benefits…encourage innovation, and promote fair competition”.

Kenner refers specifically to a recent provision that Congress enacted with the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation), that allows established car makers to test on public roads without having to seek legal exemptions – but it doesn’t apply to new entrants.

“Instead of applying for exemptions, all companies should be given an opportunity to implement internal safety processes summarised in a Safety Assessment,” writes Kenner, adding: “This is the most efficient and effective way to ensure that development vehicles and designed and operated with a level of safety equivalent to best practices and FMVSS and will not be used by the general public.”

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Apple also wants car companies to share “de-identified” data from crashes and near-misses with each other, to help improve driverless car safety more quickly:

“By sharing data, the industry will build a more comprehensive dataset than any one company could create alone. This will allow everyone in the industry to design systems to better detect and respond to the broadest set of nominal and edge-case scenarios.”

Apple has kept a tight lid on its efforts in the automotive space, despite a seemingly interminable flow of leaks and rumours regularly confirming the company’s car-related ambitions.

Most of the rumours to date have centred on the idea of an Apple Car, reportedly codenamed ‘Project Titan’. The Apple Car was supposedly a driverless electric vehicle that would launch some time around the 2020. But recent reports suggest Apple has faced difficulty building its own car, and has now redirected efforts to autonomous car technology instead.

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