Apple Reportedly Seeking LiDAR Sensors With ‘Revolutionary Design’ for Self-Driving Vehicles

Apple has held talks with at least four potential suppliers of LiDAR sensors for self-driving vehicles, providing fresh evidence of the company's renewed ambitions to enter the autonomous vehicle space, according to Reuters.

Apple has been using Lexus SUVs with LiDAR equipment to test autonomous technologies

The report claims Apple is seeking LiDAR units that are "smaller, cheaper and more easily mass produced" than current systems, which can cost over $100,000 and are considered "too bulky and prone to failure" for use in mass-produced vehicles. Apple is said to be "setting a high bar" with demands for a "revolutionary design."

While it remains unclear whether the goal of Apple's so-called "Project Titan" is to build its own vehicle or supply self-driving hardware and software to other automakers, the report says Apple wants to control the "perception stack" of sensors and software for autonomous vehicles, regardless of who makes it.

In addition to evaluating potential outside suppliers, Apple is believed to have its own LiDAR sensor technology under development, the report adds.

The report claims the next-generation LiDAR sensor designs that Apple is seeking could potentially be made with semiconductor manufacturing techniques, potentially significantly lowering costs, but the sources cited say Apple has not been happy with most of what it has seen so far.

Last year, Apple rehired its former VP of Mac hardware engineering Doug Field to work on Project Titan after a five-year stint as Tesla's engineering chief. Apple has a team of about 1,200 employees working on the project, according to court documents, but recent restructuring led to 190 layoffs.

Apple has been testing and developing autonomous driving software out on the streets of Cupertino, California, using Lexus SUVs, since early 2017. It's still unclear if we'll ever see a so-called Apple Car, but analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes a release wouldn't be until 2023 to 2025 either way.

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Apple Confirms 190 Layoffs From Self-Driving Car Project

Apple is laying off 190 employees who worked in its Santa Clara and Sunnyvale self-driving car division, the company said in a letter to the California Employment Development Department that was shared by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Affected employees include 38 engineering program managers, 33 hardware engineers, 31 product design engineers, and 22 software engineers, with the layoff set to happen on April 16.


Last month, Apple confirmed that it was removing more than 200 employees from its autonomous car team, with some to be laid off and some to be relocated to other areas in the company.

At the time, an Apple spokesperson said that it was part of a restructuring where the team was focusing on its work for "key areas for 2019."
"We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple."

"We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever."
Some rumors have suggested that the layoffs were because of a reorganization under former Tesla engineer Doug Field, who joined the company back in August 2018 to lead the car project alongside Bob Mansfield.

Apple started work on self-driving vehicles back in 2014, with rumors at the time suggesting Apple was working to develop a full electric vehicle at a secret location near its Cupertino headquarters.

Leadership issues, internal strife, and other problems impacted the development of the car, and in 2016, new information suggested Apple had shelved its plans for a car to instead focus on an autonomous driving system.

The hiring of Field, who was once Apple's VP of Mac hardware before he went to Tesla, has, however, been seen as a sign that Apple is again developing a full autonomous vehicle, which could perhaps explain another major employee shakeup.

Despite the layoffs, Apple says it still sees a huge opportunity in autonomous systems in the future.

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German Report Says ‘Apple Car’ Could Arrive in Form of Electric Van

The so-called "Apple Car" may not be a car after all, but rather an electric van, according to German site Manager Magazin.

LiDAR-equipped Apple Maps vehicle in 2015

The report, loosely translated below, claims Apple's industrial design group has designed prototypes of the van with black and silver finishes:
After that, the Apple Car could come in the form of an electric van. Apple's engineers have designed specimens with black and silver paint, designed in the typical industrial design of the iPhone group. Apple also researches on its own batteries, electric motors, special seats and interior components.
Last year, The New York Times reported that Apple had signed a deal to use Volkswagen vans as self-driving shuttles to transport employees around its various campuses and office buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's possible the vans could be designed by Apple and manufactured by Volkswagen.

The context of this report really depends on how ambitious Apple's plans are. Early reports suggested that Apple was developing an electric vehicle under the codename Project Titan, but later reports have suggested that Apple may be focused on the underlying electric and self-driving technologies only.

Apple recently hired former Tesla lead engineer Doug Field to lead the project alongside longtime Apple executive Bob Mansfield. Last month, Apple reportedly removed more than 200 employees from the team, but Apple said "we continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems."

In any case, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple is unlikely to release a vehicle until 2023 to 2025.

Apple already uses a fleet of LiDAR-equipped vans to collect mapping data, as part of its efforts to improve Apple Maps. Each van is equipped with an iPad and a Mac Pro to assist the drivers with surveying streets and neighborhoods.

Via: Reuters

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Apple Shares White Paper on Self-Driving Car Safety

Apple today released a white paper outlining its self-driving car testing procedures as required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [PDF via CNET].

The short seven-page document is scant on details about Apple's autonomous car project, but the company says that it is "excited about the potential of automated systems" in many areas, including transportation.


Apple believes autonomous driving systems have the potential to "enhance the human experience" through road safety improvements, increased mobility, and broad social benefits.

Each vehicle that's deployed (Apple uses Lexus SUVs outfitted with LiDAR equipment) is put through "rigorous verification testing" using simulation and closed-course proving grounds.

Apple explains how its autonomous vehicles work, which is basic self-driving vehicle functionality. The software senses what's around it, such as other vehicles, bicycles, or pedestrians using LiDAR, radar, and cameras before a planning component pulls that information together to predict what will happen next.

Using this information, Apple's system delivers commands for the steering, braking, and propulsion systems.

Apple analyzes every action that the system takes, especially scenarios and malfunctions where the safety driver is required to take over. Apple vehicles were in two accidents in 2018, though neither was the fault of the self-driving system and self-driving mode was only activated in one instance.

Every new autonomous driving feature implemented sees rigorous verification testing using test scenarios crafted from data gathered on public roads.
All proposed changes to our ADS software are first subjected to rigorous and comprehensive simulation testing that evaluates the software against predetermined criteria. After passing these simulation tests, the entire system then undergoes on-road testing at closed-course proving grounds. Software changes may be nominated for operation on public roads only after passing this array of extensive simulations and closed-course proving ground tests.

Software that passes to public road testing is incrementally deployed across the test vehicle fleet, with each stage monitored and analyzed. Additionally, changes deemed safety-critical undergo an extra phase of testing conducted by our most experienced drivers and operators.
All in all, Apple's white paper is rather dull and contains information shared by most companies that operate self-driving vehicles, but there are some interesting tidbits and insights into the company's focus on safety and secrecy.

All vehicles go through daily inspections and functionality checks before each outing, and Apple holds daily meetings with safety drivers to review software information and test routes.

Each vehicle is monitored by a safety driver and an operator, with Apple's safety drivers required to undergo rigorous training that includes a defensive driving course, classroom instruction, simulations, operational training, and supervised public road driving.

Drivers must keep both hands on the wheel at all times, work one shift per day, and are required to take frequent rest breaks to stay alert while driving.

Apple is still in the early stages of development on its autonomous driving software, and rumors have suggested the company could potentially release some kind of vehicle in 2023 to 2025.

Vehicles are equipped with a "persistent visual display" of the systems' mode, visible and audible signals when the system returns control to the safety driver, and "multiple, redundant, and fault-tolerant" mechanisms for taking control of the vehicle. Steering, braking, and acceleration commands have set limits to ensure actions can be safely anticipated and interrupted by the driver.

For more on Apple's car project, make sure to check out our Apple Car roundup.

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Apple’s Self-Driving Car Performance May Not Be So Bad After All

Apple's preliminary disengagement data for its self-driving car project surfaced yesterday pointing towards a high number of disengagements, and today, the DMV has shared the full disengagement reports from the company, providing more insight into Apple's autonomous car testing.

A disengagement report tracks the number of times an autonomous vehicle disengages and gives control back to a safety driver or the number of times the safety driver in the vehicle interferes.


Yesterday's information suggested Apple had the worst rank when it came to disengagements, but Apple has now provided details [PDF] explaining its disengagement reporting procedures and some changes that were made mid-year.

For the period between April 2017 and June 2018, Apple vehicles drove 24,604 miles autonomously and experienced 40,198 manual takeovers and 36,359 software disengagements, a number that is comparatively high based on disengagement reports from other companies.

As of July 2018, however, Apple stopped reporting its total number of disengagements and instead began focusing on "Important Disengagements," aka disengagements that might have resulted in a safety-related event (aka accident) or a violation of the rules of the road.

Using this metric, Apple vehicles have driven 56,135 miles since July 2018, with only 28 "Important Disengagements" reported. Two of these "Important Disengagements" were indeed minor collisions that weren't the fault of Apple's vehicles. One accident took place in August 2018 and the other was in October 2018.

Under Apple’s revised reporting threshold, the company’s cars experienced only one important disengagement every 2005 miles, compared to every 1.1 miles if the full data is counted. If other companies use similar thresholds to Apple’s new standard, Apple would rank much better.

Making direct comparisons between Apple's disengagement report and the results from other companies is difficult because there is no standard for reporting disengagements. It's up to each individual company to decide what constitutes a disengagement and what disengagements need to be reported.

It is clear, though, that Apple's vehicles are in the early stages of testing, as the company says itself in a DMV cover letter.

According to Apple, safety is its "highest priority" and its approach to disengagements is "conservative" because its system is not yet able to operate in "all conditions and situations."

Apple's testing parameters require drivers to proactively take manual control of a vehicle any time the system encounters a scenario beyond its current capabilities. The vehicle itself also self-monitors and returns control back to the driver when errors or issues are encountered.

Situations where drivers take over include the appearance of emergency vehicles, construction zones, or unexpected objects in the road, as Apple's vehicles cannot self-navigate these obstacles.

The autonomous software hands over control when it can't sufficiently track an object, is unable to generate a motion plan using the path planning system, when the vehicle systems don't respond as expected, and when there are communication issues.

Apple now has more than 62 vehicles out on the road, a number that will likely ramp up in 2019 as autonomous software testing continues. Apple is required to provide annual disengagement reports to the DMV, so we'll see the company's 2019 performance in early 2020, and will be able to look for improvements.

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Apple Reports Self-Driving Car Disengagements to DMV, Earns Worst Rank

Apple has been testing Lexus SUVs equipped with its autonomous driving software out on the roads around Cupertino since April 2017, and for the first time, the company has filed a disengagement report with the DMV.

A disengagement report tracks the number of times an autonomous vehicle disengages and gives control back to a safety driver or the number of times the safety driver in the vehicle interferes. All of Apple's self-driving SUVs have safety drivers able to take over in the event of an emergency.

The DMV will be publishing the full reports later this week, but they appeared briefly on the website and The Last Driver License Holder was able to get a brief look at some of the data. The information covers the period from December 2017 to November 2018 for all companies operating self-driving vehicles in California, including Apple.

Image via The Last Driver License Holder

According to the data, Apple registered 871.65 disengagements per 1000 miles, with a disengagement approximately every 1.1 mile. For comparison's sake, Waymo, Google's autonomous vehicle arm, had 0.09 disengagements per 1000 miles with 11,154.3 miles per disengagement.


Apple's total number of disengagements was higher than any other company doing autonomous vehicle testing, suggesting Apple drivers need to take over for the self-driving vehicle more frequently than other companies as it works out kinks in the software. This could be because Apple is driving more challenging routes, Apple drivers are abundantly cautious, or it could be because its self-driving software is less evolved.

There are likely multiple factors at play when it comes to Apple's performance, and it's worth noting that Apple has not been testing self-driving vehicles for as long as other companies.

Disengagements are self-reported numbers and companies are able to take some liberties with how this data is reported and just what counts as a disengagement, so the data should be viewed with that in mind.

Image via The Last Driver License Holder

According to the data, Apple has 62 self-driving vehicles out on the road, though earlier reports have suggested that number is a little low. As of November, Apple reportedly had 72 vehicles on the road.

Apple's self-driving vehicles were involved in two minor collisions in 2018, one in August and one in October, though neither collision was Apple's fault. In the August collision, the vehicle was in self-driving mode, while in the October collision, it was in manual mode.

More detail on Apple's self-driving car performance will be available later this week when the full reports are released.

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Second Apple Employee Accused of Stealing Apple Car Details

The United States FBI this week accused a Chinese citizen working for Apple of attempting to steal trade secrets that are related to the company's autonomous vehicle program, reports NBC Bay Area.

Apple launched an investigation into the employee, Jizhong Chen, when another employee spotted him taking photographs "in a sensitive work space." Apple Global Security employees searched his personal computer and found "thousands" of Apple files, including manuals, schematics, photographs, and diagrams.


Chen had recently applied for a position with a China-based autonomous vehicle company that is a direct Apple competitor. Chen was arrested a day before he was set to fly to China. Apple in a statement said that it is working with the authorities.
"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our IP very seriously," the company said in a statement Tuesday. "We are working with authorities on this matter and are referring all questions to the FBI."
Interestingly, at least one of the photographs Chen took depicted an assembly drawing of an Apple-designed wiring harness for an autonomous vehicle, suggesting Apple's work does indeed go beyond simple autonomous software.

Apple's autonomous car plans have been up in the air for the last few years because the project has been restructured several times, has been put under new leadership, and many employees have been laid off or moved to other areas of the company.

There has been some question as to whether the Cupertino company is still planning a full autonomous car or if its focus has shifted to autonomous software, but the most recent rumors indicate a car is in the works with a launch planned for 2023 to 2025.

This is not the first time an employee has been caught trying to steal secrets from Apple's car team. Back in July, the FBI charged former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang with theft of trade secrets for stealing hardware and software that included prototypes and detailed prototype requirements.

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Apple Cuts 200+ Employees From ‘Project Titan’ Autonomous Car Team

Apple this week removed more than 200 employees from its autonomous car team, known internally as "Project Titan," reports CNBC.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed the layoffs to CNBC, but said that Apple continues to believe there is a "huge opportunity" with autonomous systems. According to the statement provided, some of the former Project Titan employees have been moved to other parts of the company.

"We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple," the spokesperson said.

"We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever," they added.
In August, Apple hired former Tesla lead engineer Doug Field to lead Project Titan alongside Bob Mansfield, and the employee dismissals this week were reportedly not a surprise, but rather expected restructuring under the new leadership.

Apple began work on Project Titan in 2014, and at the time, rumors suggested the company was working to develop an electric vehicle at a secret location near its Cupertino headquarters.

Leadership issues, internal strife, and other problems impacted the development of the car, and in 2016, new information suggested Apple had shelved its plans for a car to instead focus on an autonomous driving system.

The hiring of Field, who was once Apple's VP of Mac hardware before he went to Tesla, has, however, been seen as a sign that Apple is again developing a full autonomous vehicle.

Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who often accurately predicts the company's product plans, also believes that an Apple Car is in development with a targeted launch date between 2023 and 2025. With the new restructuring of the project, though, Apple's ultimate autonomous driving plans are unclear, and this could be a sign that a full Apple Car is once again off the table.

Apple has been testing autonomous driving software out on the roads of Cupertino since early 2017, and it has developed a self-driving shuttle service to transport Apple employees between various office locations in Silicon Valley.

In June 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed Apple's work on autonomous driving software, an unusual step as Apple does not often share details on products that are still under development.

"We're focusing on autonomous systems," said Cook. "It's a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects."

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Apple Hires Former Tesla and Microsoft HoloLens Designer Andrew Kim

Senior Tesla designer Andrew Kim has left his role at the automotive company to join Apple (via The Verge). Kim is the the latest in a long line of Tesla employees who have left the company for Apple, including Tesla lead engineer Doug Field's return to Apple this past August.


Kim's work history includes user interface design at Microsoft, contributions to HoloLens and Xbox One S, and designs for Tesla's Model 3, S, X, and Y. His LinkedIn profile confirms his move to Apple this month, but doesn't specify what he'll be doing at the company outside of being a "Designer." Due to his history, it could be work on Apple's rumored AR glasses, Project Titan, or something else entirely.

Project Titan is Apple's long-rumored vehicle project, which is believed to have originated in 2014 and could see a consumer Apple Car available between 2023 and 2025, according to Ming-Chi Kuo. This estimate came from a report in August, but previous rumors suggested that focus on Project Titan has shifted to autonomous driving software for cars instead of a vehicle specifically designed by Apple.

Kuo's report and news about Apple's hiring of Tesla employees -- now including Kim -- have reignited the speculation that Apple could again be planning to build its own vehicle. If accurate, the future Apple Car would have Apple's autonomous driving software built inside of a car designed by the Cupertino company.

Related Roundups: Apple Car, Apple VR Project

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Apple Signs Lease for Large Manufacturing Facility in Milpitas, California

Apple has reportedly signed a 10-year lease for nearly 314,000 square feet of industrial manufacturing space in Santa Clara County, California (via Silicon Valley Business Journal).

The agreement between Apple and project developer McCarthy Ranch is for a sing-story warehouse facility located at McCarthy Creekside, a new multiphase development in the city of Milpitas, for which Apple is said to be paying around 90 cents per square foot.

Render depicting corner of 800,000 square foot industrial development in Milpitas

Silicon Valley's vacancy rate was already a miniscule 1.5 percent, but the deal has reportedly made it hit an all-time low of just to 0.7 percent, according to the Journal.
"The shortage of available warehouse space is restricting tenant mobility,” Lena Tutko, research manager for Colliers International, said. "Warehouse users are often left with two options: renewing their lease, as seen by the top four of five deals of the third quarter, or relocate outside of the Valley."
It's not yet clear what Apple's plans are for the industrial space north of San Jose, but developer Joey McCarthy told the Journal that McCarthy Creekside is purpose-built for "industrial, R&D, [and] manufacturing."

Aside from specialist operations like the Mac Pro facility in Austin, Texas, the vast majority of Apple's manufacturing takes place outside of the U.S., which adds an extra layer of intrigue to the company's intentions in Milpitas.

On the other hand, the space could indicate an expansion of Apple's autonomous car project. Apple is believed to be using several Bay Area facilities for its self-driving car research, while McCarthy Creekside is already home to autonomous driving R&D, with a building on the development having been leased to electric vehicle maker SF Motors.

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