The question of whether Apple is building a physical Apple Car or just a software platform hasn’t been confirmed either way.
But there are a few hints, such as the fact that Apple was just granted a patent for a special suspension system for a car. Whether that part of the project continues remains to be seen.
The patent is pretty dense in terms of patent-ese and engineering speak. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that it refers to a physical vehicle suspension architecture that Apple designed. This “steer-by-wire configuration” aims to cut down on tread wear by reducing tire scrubbing when the wheels are turned. It also might offer better directional stability.
What the patent claims
As Apple writes in its patent abstract, the claims cover:
“A vehicle [with] a wheel, a frame, a suspension component, a steering knuckle, and a steering system. The suspension component is connected to the frame. The steering knuckle is connected to the suspension component and is connected to the wheel. The suspension component is operable to control vertical movement of the steering knuckle and the wheel relative to the frame. The suspension component and the steering knuckle define a steering axis for the wheel. The steering axis has a caster inclination angle of zero degrees. The steering system is connected to the suspension component and controls a steering angle of the wheel based on an electronic control signal.”
Is Apple still building an actual car?
Along with Apple’s recently granted patent for a special bumper, this all suggests that Apple is building an actual car. But maybe we don’t need to be so hasty.
Looking at the names mentioned on the patent, not all the people are still working at Apple. Huibert Mees left his job at Apple in April. He is now director of chassis and vehicle dynamics at Lucid Motors. Similarly, Diomidi Katzourakis just left Apple to join Waymo as a systems engineering manager.
Then there is Paul Choin, a product designer engineer at Apple who left in 2017 to join Zoox as a director of its chassis systems. Finally, Robin Auckland, who is currently senior engineer of vehicle dynamics at Lotus, appears to have never worked full-time at Apple.
What does this mean? Well, not necessarily anything. Ambitious people move around to different companies. But it’s interesting to note that, of all the names on the patent, only one remains at Apple (Johannes Huennekens, a product designer for autonomous technology). And, judging from his job title, he’s the one not working exclusively with chassis systems.
Recent figures suggest that Apple currently operates 69 autonomous test cars. That’s a minor decrease from the 72 cars it used to have.
Via: Patently Apple