Self-driving cars is all the news lately. They will soon revolutionize our society, we know as much. Google, Tesla and Nvidia are already competing. We know that too.
Leaked evidence is now mounting to reveal what experts have long suspected: Apple is joining the action.
The clearest evidence of it came rather comically in a clerical oversight at the California DMV department, making it full of irony.
It reveals that Apple has quietly developed a secret team of robotics experts and engineering PhDs to gain momentum in its quest to develop its own self-driving car.
Why is all of this kind of a big deal?
Because a tech giant like Apple, which has been ridiculously secretive about its involvement in this space, despite consistent rumors to the contrary, changes the whole playing field.
The first indication that Apple was up to something came from a letter written last year by Apple’s Director of Product Integrity Steve Kenner to the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminsirtation (NHTSA).
“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,” Mr. Kenner wrote.
Then about a week ago, things got interesting.
First, Business Insider noted that the California DMV updated its website to add an unexpected name amongst the 29 other companies that already has permits to test self-driving vehicles in the state: Apple.
Unexpected, precisely because all through 2016, Apple spent a lot of time denying any rumors related to self-driving technology. “It’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while,” said Apple’s Tim Cook when asked about the project last year, referring to Apple’s policy in not disclosing their intentions yet.
Then, late last year, it was reported that Apple had hit unexpected glitches.
That was code for the project “has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car,” according to people familiar with the project.
So why is Apple suddenly applying for permits for a program it is not pursuing, analysts asked? Their claims and actions did not match up.
This is where the latest unintended oversight by the California DMV comes in.
And it reveals something even more crucial—Apple’s secret autonomous driving team, or at least part of it.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the permit granted to Google contained names of six Apple employees, designated as “drivers/operators” of driverless cars.
And get this: those six names were meant to be redacted before release! Oops!
The revelation went viral immediately. Who are these six people? Surely, their identity will tell us a lot about Apple’s intentions, despite their tight-lip policy. Correct! Apple is luring talents with high-level experience from NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, ex-Tesla employees, robotics experts, electrical engineers, and augment reality PhDs.
More intriguingly, several of these people do not have Apple listed on their resume! No one knew they were working for Apple.
Why not tell the world you work for Apple? Precisely because Apple intended it that way.
Well, not anymore!
Padding the roster
Bloomberg also reported that Apple has hired NASA’s Jeff Norris, an expert in Augmented Reality glasses.
It is now clear that Apple would pose a major challenge to the existing automakers, as well as rival tech companies like Google’s autonomous vehicle program company, Waymo. Apple also hopes to bring AR-related hardware to the market as soon as next year.
Competitors, on their part, seem ready for the challenge.
The latest revelations may not raise their eyebrow. CEO Elon Musk, back in 2015, already called Apple a “Tesla graveyard,” referring to Apple’s practice of employing underperforming former Tesla employees.
What’s Apple’s aim?
It must also be noted that it is unclear if Apple is developing both the hardware and software for driverless cars, or just focusing on the operating system technology that it would sell to the highest bidders. Given Apple’s appetite for success and domination, one is tempted to think it would go all in.
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For now, one thing is certain: Apple is very bad at lying.