Letter reveals Apple car could still hit the road one day

5 Dec 2016

Car wheel. Image: Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock

Despite the many forks in the road that appear to come ahead of the Apple car project, the company has issued a letter to US authorities proclaiming it is “excited” about the potential for autonomous vehicles.

It has been a case of will-they-won’t-they for Tim Cook and his employees, surrounding the future of the Apple car. Rumours ranged from possible manufacturers of an autonomous vehicle in the works to suggestions that the project was as good as dead.

However, the appearance of a letter sent by Apple’s director of product integrity, Steve Kenner, has once again suggested that the Apple car has a likely chance of hitting the road after all.

According to the letter sent to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Kenner dropped a number of hints about Apple’s automotive intentions.

“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,” he said.

Kenner went on to request that the NHTSA loosens its regulations or takes into account the unprecedented nature of autonomous vehicles, in order to speed up their chances of taking to the road.

“Apple affirms that, in order to best protect the travelling public and keep up with the pace of innovation, NHTSA should expedite requests for exemption and interpretation and petitions for rule-making.”

Making a level playing field

Despite suggestions in October that Apple was to abandon an autonomous car in favour of working on a software-only basis, Kenner called on the NHTSA to treat totally new entrants into the manufacturing of vehicles more fairly.

“To maximise the safety benefits of automated vehicles, encourage innovation and promote fair competition, established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally.

“Instead of applying for exemptions, all companies should be given an opportunity to implement internal safety processes summarised in a safety assessment.”

Speaking to the Financial Times, an Apple spokesperson said it was only commenting because Apple “is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems”.

The mystery and intrigue continues.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic