Apple gives a glimpse inside its self-driving vehicle program

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Project Titan
Apple is putting tremendous effort into ensuring test autonomous vehicles are safe, safe, safe.
Photo: Idiggapple/Twitter

A whitepaper describing the elaborate safety procedures used in Apple’s automated car development program seems intended to assure government regulators and the public that the company is making every effort to prevent accidents.

As a bonus, the document gives some insight into the automated vehicle Apple is creating.

Test cars involved in this program have been in just two accidents, and in one of them the computer wasn’t even driving. Nevertheless, a report last week that indicating that these cars average only about 1.1 miles before a human driver needs to take over from the computer might have raised some concerns.

Apple emphasizes safety

The company prepared a description of its procedures for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called “Our Approach to Automated Driving System Safety.”

Its self-driving car software and hardware are extensively tested before being used in the real world. “Prior to use on public roads, a comprehensive cross-functional safety review is conducted to ensure the safe, legal operation of test vehicles, including rigorous verification testing through simulation and on closed-course proving grounds,” says the whitepaper.

Whenever a test car is moving, there is always a safety driver behind the wheel in addition to an operator in charge of monitoring the autonomous vehicle system. The driver can assume control just by touching the steering wheel, brakes or accelerator. There’s also an emergency override button.

Apple’s autonomous car system in broad strokes

The vehicle automation system Apple is creating employs “a combination of sensors, including LiDAR, radar, and cameras, and provides high-resolution 360-degree 3D coverage around the vehicle,” according to its safety whitepaper. This allows it to track surrounding objects, including other cars, pedestrians and bicycles.

The automated driving system (ADS) combines this sensor data with detailed maps and GPS information to “predict where the vehicle and every surrounding object will be many seconds into the future. This information is used to determine the next action for the ADS to take,” according to Apple.

Then the hardware and software work together to carry out this plan.

None of this is any kind of revelation, and it could probably be used to describe Waymo or Ford’s self-driving vehicle  program. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer the question many people want to know: when are we going to see Apple’s first car?