An Apple hit by a Leaf? Autonomous car and electric vehicle collide

4 Sep 2018

A 2018 Nissan Leaf at the North American International Auto Show. Image: Steve Lagreca/Shutterstock

The future of car travel has hit an unexpected speed bump, but it puts an interesting juxtaposition into focus.

It is no secret that Apple is working on its own autonomous vehicle (AV) but there must have been red faces at the secretive tech giant’s HQ when it emerged that one of its test cars was rear-ended by a Nissan Leaf.

According to reports, a self-driving Lexus RX 450h that was apparently a test vehicle for Apple’s AV technology was merging on to a highway in California when it was rear-ended by a 2016 Nissan Leaf that was driven by a human.

No humans were hurt in the collision.

EVs and AVs spark off each other?

Under California’s driving laws, the rear driver is at fault in most cases of a rear-end collision.

According to a filing with the California DMV, “On 24 August at 2:58pm, an Apple test vehicle in autonomous mode was rear-ended while preparing to merge on to Lawrence Expressway South from Kifer Road.

“The Apple test vehicle was travelling less than 1mph waiting for a safe gap to complete the merge when a 2016 Nissan Leaf contacted the Apple test vehicle at approximately 15mph.”

The collision must be galling for Apple, which likes to keep its projects secret and not in the open like this.

The incident occurred just as the future of car travel takes shape, putting two key component technologies uncomfortably in the spotlight.

It is an interesting juxtaposition because one of the main hurdles to creating self-driving electric vehicles (EVs) is that the power-drain of a fully fledged AV is still too much for EVs to handle.

And that’s why Apple was testing its navigational technology on a Lexus motorised vehicle rather than an electrical one.

Tesla’s Model S, for example, features an autopilot mode, but is not a fully fledged AV.

If we can take any comfort from this, it is that it is clear Apple hasn’t given up the ghost. The tech giant is expected to roll out its own cars in 2020.

In the UK, celebrated inventor James Dyson is also hard at work to build EVs that could roll off the assembly lines in 2020 as part of a £2bn investment.

And maybe, just maybe, the collision between an EV and an AV could have sparked a ‘Eureka!’ moment in Cupertino. Who knows?

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years