Apple’s on again, off again pas de deux with the world of automobiles is still alive. Tesla took a page from the Apple playbook when it created electric cars that are more like computers. Does Apple want to return the favor by using its expertise in computers to create electric cars? Elon Musk says the answer is yes and calls it the worst kept secret in Silicon Valley. But earlier this year, word filtered out that Apple has shut down its car making ambitions, which were known internally as Project Titan. Does that mean the company has totally withdrawn from the game?
Maybe not. On November 22, Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, sent a 5 page letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The letter sad that Apple is excited about the potential for self driving transportation and ask U.S. regulators not to restrict testing of those vehicles.
“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,” Kenner wrote. “Executed properly under NHTSA’s guidance, automated vehicles have the potential to greatly enhance the human experience — to prevent millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year and to give mobility to those without.”
Kenner’s letter urges NHTSA not to place too many restrictions on self driving car testing. In particular, it is concerned that companies like Tesla, Uber, and Google will gain an unfair advantage because they are years ahead of Apple in the development of self driving technology. “Established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally,” Kenner says.
Tom Neumayr, a spokesperson for Apple, said in an e-mail that Kenner’s letter was prompted by its heavy investment in machine learning and autonomous systems. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry,” he said.
Apple’s letter suggests that all companies involved in self driving research should share their data to move the process along faster but in a way that does not reveal trade secrets or confer a competitive advantage. Yeah, good luck with that, Apple.
What’s the takeaway from all this? Based on all the backing and forthing by Apple during the past few years, an outside observer could be excused for thinking that leadership within the company is lacking. First it’s going to build electric cars, then it’s not. One day, it’s going to partner with McLaren Technology Group then the next day it’s not. Is Apple’s time as an innovator over?
Elon Musk once claimed that Tesla would match Apple’s $700 billion market capitalization some day. That’s a stretch, of course, but there is a possibility Apple’s valuation could evaporate if the company that was once an industry disruptor becomes just another in a long line of those who find themselves a day late and a dollar short when the next round of disruption begins.
Source: Automotive News Photo credit: AutoBlog