Apple is usually a name that we associate with sleek phones, trendy computers, and poor design choices (rest in peace, headphone jack…) but most of us don’t associate it with cars. That might change in the near future, and Tesla might find some serious competition as Apple die-hards set their sights on an Apple-brand autonomous car to go with their iPhone. Yes, you heard that right; Apple has finally thrown their hat into the ring and may have admitted that they are working on autonomous cars.
New Rules, New Toys
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the governing body that gets to enjoy the important job of determining when and where autonomous cars are safe enough for everyday use. The office actually views the introduction of these cars as the next great leap in automotive safety, something like this century’s seatbelt. According to the NHTSA, there are more than 30,000 deaths every year due to motor vehicle accidents, with a whopping 94% of those accidents being due to human error. By removing the possibility of human error, theoretically the introduction of self-driving cars could save those 30,000 lives.
That is why the idea of Apple moving into the autonomous car game is so exciting. The industry is advancing at a snail’s pace, so bringing in new blood like the amazing minds at Apple could potentially jump-start the self-driving car race.
Grasping at Straws
On November 22nd, 2016, Apple sent a letter to the NHTSA discussing a variety of topics. The most exciting of these topics is, of course, the “potential of automated system in many areas, including transportation.”
While this isn’t a direct confirmation from Apple that they are indeed working on an autonomous car, most industry experts are taking it as a signal that Apple will be tossing their hat into the autonomous car ring sometime in the near future.
It’s entirely possible that we’re all reading this wrong and Apple isn’t planning on branching out into the automotive industry, but the company hasn’t done anything to quash the rumors, even throwing virtual fuel on the fire by doing things like buying up the apple.auto and apple.car URLs at the beginning of the year.
Apple’s ‘Project Titan’ has also long been a source of great speculation. It’s taunting Apple fans around the world with the idea of their very own Apple Car. However, with this new information that’s come to light, it looks like Titan is less about building an Apple Car and more about creating the software that will be necessary to bring the idea of a fully autonomous car to fruition.
What most of these companies, Apple included, need to focus on is the importance of driver safety in autonomous cars. No one needs a car without a steering wheel, no matter how much legroom it adds.
Bringing to the Table
The real question for Apple, if they do decide to jump feet-first into the world of autonomous cars, is what do they bring to the collective table, when most of the hurdles have already been cleared?
Two major topics: crash data and information privacy.
First, as mentioned in their letter to the NHTSA, Apple believes that all crash data, near crash data, and any identified scenarios that could cause the crash of an autonomous car should be shared with everyone in the industry. They’re not wrong. The sharing of this data could help anyone who’s building an autonomous car to make it that much safer.
Second, whenever you bring up the topic of sharing information someone inevitably brings up the problem of information privacy. Collecting data, even the crash data that we mentioned a moment ago, presents the potential for data theft. Luckily, Apple has some of the industry’s greatest experts in data protection, so if we’re looking into the future of autonomous cars, Apple could be a great addition to the industry.
Right now, this is all still speculation. Is Apple planning to stun the world with their very own Apple car? We can only wait and see, and keep our fingers crossed that we’ll finally be able to pick up a car to match our iPhone.
Megan Ray Nichols is a science freelancer and editor of Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to making scientific news understandable and engaging. Megan is an amateur astronomer and environmentalists. Subscribe to her blog here for weekly updates and follow her on Twitter @nicholsrmegan.