Autonomous Vehicles and the Apple iCar

February 15, 2015

Good news for Apple fetishists – now even your car can be anointed with Steve Jobs’ blessing!
This past week, reports began circulating that the monolithic technology developer, responsible for such greats as iTunes and the iPhone, had entered the arena of automotive design. “People familiar with the matter” have indicated that Apple now has several hundred employees working around the clock on a project code-named “Titan.” If the rumors are true, then Apple’s car will not only be electric, but also self-driving.
In researching project Titan, Apple has been meeting with luxury car manufacturers from around the world, including Magna International, the maker of the Magna Steyr. Apple also notably hired Marc Newson last year, a renowned industrial designer who has designed concept cars for Ford in the past.
But when will the iCar arrive? Right now, details are murky at best. When directly asked, Apple declined to issue an official statement. What is known, though, is that it would take years for any prototype to be developed, tested, and then safety certified. Because Apple started this task less than a year ago, it will probably be some time before we see any results.
Although Apple is currently enjoying a period of massive financial growth, reporting a 30% rise in revenue last quarter, the company still has at least few other electric-car makers to compete against if it wishes for project Titan to succeed.
Tesla, the premier luxury electric car company, is Apple’s most obvious challenge. For some time there was speculation that the software manufacturer would acquire Tesla, however it appears that Apple has instead elected to build their own car, rather than to buy someone else’s. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Apple has apparently been courting Tesla employees on an individual basis.
Google has also been working on an electric, self-driving car for some time. The Internet company debuted their autonomous driving technology back in 2010, sparking much interest and debate, and have since only intensified their investment in the field. They have made a great deal of progress in recent years, growing beyond the limitation of straightforward driving.

The vehicles are getting a much deeper semantic understanding,” says a Google rep.

The company has also been working on a ride-hailing application to pair with this technology, and believes that app-summoned, self-driving cabs could be ready within the next 5 years.
Uber, the ride-hailing company that Google has invested in, has similarly begun to study autonomous driving. Earlier this year, Uber announced that it would be opening its own research labs on the Carnegie Mellon University campus, called the Uber Advanced Technologies Center. Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, has expressed a desire to remove the human element from transportation, noting that “when there’s no dude driving the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle … and car ownership goes away.”
Car manufacturers have been throwing their hats into the ring of automated driving, as well: BMW is showing off a smartwatch-controlled self-parking feature, and Audi has conducted a long-distance trial of automated highway driving. However, most of the auto industry’s research has gone into driver-assisted, rather than self-driving, technology. This difference of purpose will be likely to strictly limit the amount of collaboration between Apple and the auto industry, as carmakers are naturally less interested in reducing the number of human drivers.
Despite the stiff competition, Apple has expressed a readiness for the challenge. Sources close to the project have hinted that the tech company is much more interested in owning the rights to the self-driving operating system than in creating a physical car, stating, ”It’s a software game.” As user-friendly software is one of Apple’s specialties, their confidence is hardly unfounded.
Implementation aside, this new technology raises some serious questions about its potential effects on society. Specifically, driverless cars threaten the taxi industry, and could put thousands of drivers out of work. Some have even suggested that the profession of cab driving could become extinct in a world with autonomous cars.
On the other hand, driverless cars could reduce the need for work commutes, second family cars, and parking lots. Presently, parking lots take up to as much as a third of the land area in any given city, so the proliferation of self-driving cars could significantly increase our available space. Furthermore, autonomous cars would reduce the emission of toxic gases into our environment, possibly saving our planet in addition to our time and money.
With so many companies investing in self-driving car research, their existence seems inevitable. One can only hope that the result will be a safer, cleaner world.