Is Apple working on its own self-driving car? Say hello to the iCar

4 Feb 2015

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Pictured: Apple's Cupertino HQ in San Francisco, there's plenty of parking out front.

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Tech giant Apple is reportedly testing camera-equipped vehicles in San Francisco and New York, suggesting the company could be working on its own version of Street View for Apple Maps or even a self-driving vehicle.

Mysterious minivans registered to Apple have been spotted driving around the Bay Area of San Francisco and Brooklyn in New York festooned with camera equipment and a LiDAR sensor on the roof.

LiDAR technology is used to make high resolution maps and is a critical component used in self-driving vehicles.

The appearance of the vehicles suggests that Apple is not only updating its mapping app with Street View like features but could also be eyeing up opportunities in the self-driving or autonomous vehicle space.

While the idea of an Apple car or iCar is a tantalising one, Apple has not yet been granted a permit to test self-driving cars so the Street View theory is probably the most likely. However, it could only be a matter of time before Apple comes up with technologies for auto makers if they wish to compete with Google’s vision of autonomous vehicles.

Apple has the resources and the infrastructure to constantly add new services if they make sense.

Robot car wars

One of the mysterious Apple-registered minivans spotted in San Francisco and New York. Photo via Claycord.com

This is an area that is heating up remarkably. Late last year Google revealed just how advanced autonomous vehicles had become proving vehicles could not only sense other vehicles but also pedestrians possibly about to cross the road.

It is in discussions with motor giants Ford, Toyota, Daimler, Volkswagen and General Motors to bring self-driving cars to market by 2020.

In recent weeks, Google revealed its latest autonomous vehicles with built-in intelligence and sensors that take note of pedestrians likely to cross the street, for example.

Not only that but Google is also about to take on Uber at its own game with a ride-sharing app that will actually link with its self-driving cars, so with an app you can summon a robot car to take you to the shops, work or home.

Not to be outdone, Uber is also working on R&D for its own self-driving vehicles and has established a lab in Pittsburgh to build its own fleet of autonomous vehicles. The lab is staffed by 50 scientists from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute who had a hand in building the Mars Rover.

Apple HQ image via Shutterstock

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com