After years of being shrouded in mystery, Apple’s car program came to a screeching halt this year with the world never having seen as much as a prototype. But Apple has reportedly shifted from building an actual car to devising software and systems for autonomous driving, and a recently-uncovered letter to federal regulators is the biggest sign yet that the tech giant hasn’t given up in the self-driving car arena.
The Verge, Reuters and other outlets today highlighted Apple’s Nov. 22 letter from Director of Product Integrity Steve Kenner to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind, in which Kinner comments on the agency’s newly-announced self-driving car guidelines and says Apple 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.”
Google and Ford have commented on those guidelines as well, but this is Apple’s first statement on them—and the first real sign of life we’ve seen from Apple’s car project in some time.
Earlier this year the world learned that Apple’s car program, codenamed Project Titan, was being reorganized after several years spent on an aggressive hiring spree and engineering effort. The goal was, apparently, to get a car out by the early 2020s that would “disrupt” the car sector the way the iPhone did for mobile devices a decade ago.
But as several tech companies have learned this year, making a car from the ground up is hard, and after tremendous internal strife, the program is being shifted toward software or a platform for other companies to use.
So what’s in the letter to NHTSA? Nothing especially groundbreaking. In it Apple urges data-sharing among companies developing self-driving vehicles in the name of safety, implores NHTSA to consider data privacy as a priority, and asks that “established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally.”
But there’s nothing in the letter to indicate, again, that Apple is back to working to devise its own actual car. It could just as easily be interpreted as needing guidelines as Apple works toward software and technology to enable autonomous driving, perhaps to be used by other automakers or companies, rather than an Apple Car.
The letter can be read in full below. Take a look and weigh in in the comments.