Apple deepens interest in self-driving vehicle legislation
Mon 5 Dec 2016
Apple fans who have been waiting for the iCar for some years – despite the likely prospect that it would cost a third more than equivalent products and abandon industry-standards – have been heartened to see a rare sign of the company’s definite interest in the industry, in the form of a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The document, sent on 22nd November, has been rather over-interpreted as a tacit admission that the company is set on developing SDV technology. Though it’s unlikely that the world’s most successful hardware manufacturer would have no stake in autonomous vehicles at all, Apple is reported to have laid up its initial research project – codenamed Titan – in September.
In the missive, Apple’s Director of Product Integrity, Steve Kenney, confirms that Apple is making major investments in the machine learning sector, and is ‘excited’ about the potential of automated systems in the transportation field.
After making several votive pleas for the integrity of data privacy in SDV research, Apple then rounds on the subject that most seems to interest it in the communication: the exemption of experimental autonomous vehicles from the standard certification procedures overseen by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in the context of the Vehicle Safety Act:
‘Both Congress and NHTSA have long recognized that manufacturers need to conduct limited and controlled testing on public roads. In fact, Congress recently enacted a provision in the FAST Act explicitly allowing established manufacturers to test on public roads without pursuing exemptions from FMVSS.10 But the FAST Act does not provide the same opportunity to new entrants.’
The level of interest that Apple shows in this particular area does seem to indicate that it may have literally hit a roadblock at some point in plans for its own tests on public roads. Under exemptions, Google (in California) and Uber (largely in Pittsburgh, near its Carnegie Mellon-poaching SDV labs) have been granted the necessary permissions to carry out vital testing of autonomous vehicle behaviour.
Tesla is, technically, in a greater position than even Google or Uber to gather the crucial SDV data that could potentially define a multi-trillion dollar industry, but is at the same time limited by its potential liability in the use of its ‘Autopilot’ feature.
The Kenney letter makes no reference to Project Titan, or any subsequent R&D work that might have supplanted it.