Apple’s Testing Autonomous Driving Systems for the Lexus

CEO Tim Cook emphasized Apple’s interest in the technology during the Q3 earnings call Monday.

For a while, it’s been apparent that Apple is developing an autonomous driving system. This is clear from information shared by California’s DMV where Apple got a DMV permit to test autonomous driving systems this past April. Apple joined a list of 30 companies that have been granted autonomous car testing permits by the state of California. This list includes automotive manufacturers, automotive suppliers, startups and tech players.

Initially, there was a lot of excitement that Apple might be developing its own car, but instead it seems that the company has chosen to focus only on the autonomous driving system with the final deadline of late 2017 for feasibility or the project will be axed, according to Bloomberg. The project labeled ‘Titan’ has had its ups and downs, with a rocky 12 months since Bob Mansfield, a veteran executive of Apple, took over management.

During Tim Cook’s quarterly earnings report, he went so far as to call autonomy “the mother of all AI projects” and hinted that Apple had other autonomous systems in development. Prior to his involvement, the project had been larger in scope with Apple holding discussions about licensing the new technology to automotive manufacturers such as BMW AG and Volkswagen AG. Mansfield scaled back the project and insisted that the project’s primary goal must be to develop autonomous driving system first before expanding to building a full-fledged car or any other ambitions.

Since this past April, several Lexus RX450h SUVs have been seen around Cupertino near the company’s headquarters.

Bloomberg obtained photos of the vehicles and shared them. The photos reveal that the Lexus cars are outfitted with third-party sensors and cameras. The sensors include the high end 64-channel lidar sensor by Velodyne Lidar Inc. Lidar is a radar-like system that is highly coveted by several car manufacturers, new startups and companies in the transportation space such as Uber. Lidar uses lasers instead of radio waves and composes a 3-D image of the nearby environment. This is important for helping autonomous vehicles detecting their position and being able to sense nearby vehicles, objects and pedestrians. Lidar offers more accuracy than satellite navigation systems that only provide guidance up to 16 feet and can often be confused by high-rise buildings.

Other companies that are also testing their autonomous driving systems on Lexus RX450 models that are manufactured by Toyota Motor Corporation, include startup Zoox Inc. and Alphabet (formerly Google)’s Waymo.

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