Apple reveals autonomous vehicle ambitions in letter to US regulators

Apple has publicly revealed its ambitions to play in the emerging market of self-driving vehicles with a policy recommendation letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Wall Street Journal first broke news of the communique.

Precise details of Apple automotive products were not revealed in the letter. But it did state that:

“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. 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.”

Written by Apple Director of Product Integrity Steve Kenner, the letter calls for policies that will bring about: a clear understanding of who is liable for problems that occur when cars drive themselves; the maintenance of users’ privacy, cybersecurity and physical safety; and ensuring that the impact of self-driving cars on the public is as positive as can be.

The impact of any new regulation on a burgeoning industry could be chilling or make room for new brands, jobs and technological breakthroughs, of course.

Apple strongly calls for policies that treat newcomers in the automotive industry the same as incumbent leaders. A new automaker should not have to disclose more information about their autonomous vehicles, the letter suggests, before they test them on public roads in a safe and controlled manner.

This recommendation has the internet abuzz with the idea that Apple will make its own brand of self-driving cars, after all, not just the software or operating systems within them.

The letter also admonishes NHTSA to form policies that will protect drivers’ individual privacy.

Kenner writes:

“Apple agrees that companies should share de-identified scenario and dynamics data from crashes and near-misses…By sharing data, the industry will build a more comprehensive dataset than any one company could create alone…

[But] 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.”

Rumors of an Apple car have long been swirling online, and were renewed when the company reportedly enlisted Bob Mansfield to head its auto division. Mansfield was formerly the leader of engineering teams behind products like the MacBook Air and iPad.

Following his appointment though, the Cupertino tech juggernaut reorganized its teams to focus on developing the “brains” within an autonomous vehicle, reportedly.

If Apple stays true to its winning playbook of owning both the hardware and the software within to make its entrance in transportation, we will one day see a self-driving car in its name.