Apple likes to cloak itself in a layer of secrecy so consumers and rivals don't know what the company is up to. There have been a lot of rumors about a car project at Apple, first the rumor mill said the company was developing an electric car but later sources claimed this project was dumped in favor of a project focused on self-driving car technology.
Now a letter from Apple's director of product integrity Steve Kenner to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides hard evidence that the company is definitely working on automated car technology. Kenner wrote Apple is excited about the opportunities of automated transportation and explained to the NHTSA that the company is investing heavily in machine learning to automate systems in many areas, including transportation.
The letter doesn't provide details about specific products or technologies that are under development at Apple, but the remarkable thing about it is that Apple is urging companies to share important data and that it calls for established manufacturers and new entrants to be treated equally. Here are some snippets as highlighted by ARS Technica:
Apple states that companies making self-driving vehicles and connected cars should follow "rigorous safety principles," however those rules shouldn't prevent companies from making "consequential progress." Also, the letter emphasizes the necessity of sharing "crash and near-misses" data to improve this technology, but that shouldn't compromise user privacy.
"By sharing data, the industry will build a more comprehensive dataset than any one company could create alone," the letter states. "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.... Data sharing should not come at the cost of privacy. Apple believes that companies should invest the resources necessary to protect individuals’ fundamental right to privacy."
Toward the end of the letter, Apple makes a point to say that "established manufacturers" and "new entrants" should be treated equally "to maximize the safety benefits of automated vehicles, encourage innovation, and promote fair competition." Otherwise, newcomers may be at a disadvantage, since they would have to apply for regulatory exemptions. This comes as big car manufacturers like Ford reveal plans to develop self-driving vehicles in the coming years.
The whole part about sharing data and creating an open system seems contrary to what Apple usually does and leads some to believe that Apple is significantly behind the "established players". Apple basically has zero experience with cars, machine learning is an excellent tool but unfortunately for Apple they do not have access to a big dataset.
Tesla on the other hand, which could also be considered as a new entrant, has over a hundred thousand cars on the road that collect telemetry data that can be used to train, optimize and test self-driving car technology.
Apple confirmed the existence of the letter but refused to comment.