Technology

Apple Self-Driving Cars Outlined In New leaked Patent

Apple self-driving cars are certainly on the horizon, even if the mega-corporation has yet to confirm their existence. The design, manufacturing and testing of an Apple Car is already well-established, and it is now expected that these vehicles will have strong self-driving elements.

Apple Self-Driving Car Project
Image Credit: arXiv / Yin Zhou / Oncel Tuzel (screenshot)

Leaked patent

This has been particularly reinforced by a patent just published from the Californian corporation, which details a navigation system intended for Apple self-driving cars. It seems that the technology giant is making major progress on delivering autonomous-driving technology, even though the commercial aspect of the scheme remains somewhat in the dark.

An Apple patent application for an “Autonomous Navigation System” has recently been published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and it indicates that serious progress is being made on a forthcoming Apple Car.

Streamlining processes

The patent indicates that it is possible to streamline self-driving navigation by relying less on mapping software. This would need to be frequently updated and checked against real-time data from the sensors of a vehicle, which would require an incredible proportion of computing power, at least according to the Apple document. Clearly this is a massive logistical undertaking, and the patent suggests a system that will improve on this approach.

Apple’s system will pilot a car “independently of any data received from any devices external to the vehicle, and nay navigation data stored locally to the vehicle prior to any monitoring of navigation,” according to the patent.

Innovative Apple

It is interesting that Apple is diverging from the approach of competitors, but this is usual for a corporation viewed as particularly innovative. The general feeling is that high-quality mapping is the most appropriate way to enable cars to navigate under their own steam, but Apple apparently feels differently.

It is also interesting considering that Apple has gone to great lengths to improve its own mapping software, in an attempt to compete with the ubiquitous Google Maps. It would seem to suggest that Apple Maps could provide a template for an Apple self-driving car, but the Californian corporation itself instead seems determined to plow its own unique furrow.

Nonetheless, it should be said in mitigation that it is extremely early days for this system. Apple is notorious for patenting a wide variety of technology that never sees the light of day, so this won’t necessarily actually appear in an apple self-driving car. All it really indicates is that the consumer electronics giant is making significant progress on developing technology, with the patent following on from previous disclosures.

Cook comments

Apple CEO Tim Cook had previously suggested that Apple will focus its attention on manufacturing systems that can deliver autonomous driving, as opposed to building its own cars. On the one hand, this would certainly make sense, and it is debatable whether Apple really has the supply chain and infrastructure to deliver a roadworthy vehicle.

Conversely, there has been strong evidence that Apple is working on some form of Apple Car, although this could well turn out to be a red herring. Certainly, many are sceptical that it makes commercial sense for Apple to take on the massive cost and complexity involved with manufacturing a car, particularly as there is no guarantee of a commercial return.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Apple has made a significant investment in self-driving cars, and that we will see major Apple innovations in this forthcoming field in the next few years. Of course, many people still have misgivings about the concept of a self-piloting vehicle, but it is inevitable that this will become a major commercial niche sooner rather than later.

Media reports

Previous reports in The Guardian and Wall Street Journal publications indicated that the Apple hierarchy has already met with officials from GoMentum Station – a testing ground for connected and autonomous vehicles at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station – and that the Apple self-driving car will definitely be a battery-driven electric vehicle.

Some of the more optimistic estimates regarding the Apple Car is that it could be ready by 2019, but with Apple still denying the existence of such technology this seems rather unlikely. What is more probable is that we will hear some form of announcements regarding Apple self-driving cars in 2020, ahead of the release of the technology.

Cook speaks out

In October 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke on the car industry: “It would seem like there will be massive change in that industry, massive change. You may not agree with that. That’s what I think…”We’ll see what we do in the future. I do think that the industry is at an inflection point for massive change.”

This concept of change is central to the Apple ethos.

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