Apple seeks sensor partner in bid to keep autonomous car dream alive

17 Apr 2019176 Views

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Apple is reportedly in talks with four different sensor developers to keep up with the major autonomous car players.

As we saw recently, LiDAR sensor development for autonomous vehicles is no easy task, and now Apple is said to be seeking outside help in a bid to overcome its less-than-stellar performance with its own work under Project Titan.

According to Reuters, Apple is in talks with at least four unnamed LiDAR developers as possible suppliers for its autonomous car sensors. It will evaluate these companies’ technologies, all while Apple continues to develop its own LiDAR in-house.

Three people familiar with the discussions said that Apple’s plan is to seek LiDAR units that would be much smaller, cheaper and capable of being mass-produced at a scale not currently available today. Executives have demanded that it be a “revolutionary design” and it would mean Apple would control the entire production chain of hardware behind autonomous vehicles.

Apple’s existing Project Titan prototypes use LiDAR systems developed by a company called Velodyne, but each of these systems can cost around $100,000 and comprise bulky mechanical parts that could be prone to failure. Despite a constant trickle of information, it is unclear whether Apple actually wants to build an autonomous car or if it just wants to build the software and hardware for a branded car built by a third party.

One of those familiar with the discussions said that what the company is asking for could be possible with conventional semiconductor manufacturing techniques. While this could save the company millions of dollars, it remains to be seen how this can cater to Apple’s need for sensors that could see hundreds of metres down a road.

Certainly, the company is playing catch-up with many of its biggest rivals, such as Google spin-off Waymo. An infographic released earlier this year showed that when it comes to the number of miles that Apple’s cars have driven autonomously, it is significantly far behind.

Last January reports also emerged that Apple was to cut up to 200 of its staff from Project Titan regarding worries that its iPhone sales wouldn’t be able to financially support it in the future.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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