Apple reveals plans for self-driving car
Apple has for the first time publicly acknowledged its plans to develop self-driving cars, with a letter that urges the US highways regulator to promote “fair competition“ between newcomers to the automotive industry and traditional manufacturers.
In an unusually direct statement accompanying the letter, an Apple spokesman confirmed its work on autonomous systems that could be used to transform “the future of transportation“.
Apple’s letter touts the “significant societal benefits of automated vehicles“, which it described as a life-saving technology, potentially preventing millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year.
The disclosure highlights how Apple may struggle to maintain its notorious secrecy in new product development as it enters more highly regulated markets, from transportation to healthcare.
Hundreds of Apple staff have been working on an electric car for more than two years, people familiar with the project say. The Financial Times first reported the secret research lab, which is based outside its Cupertino headquarters in neighbouring Sunnyvale, in February last year.
Since then, despite leaks about the project’s sometimes difficult progress, Apple executives have refused to admit that the automotive initiative exists.
That position will be harder to maintain after the publication of a letter from Apple to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as part of the regulator’s regular dialogue with manufacturers about its rules for the fast-developing technology. The letter was signed by Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, and was submitted on November 22.
“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal,“ Mr Kenner writes. “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.“