Thousands of engineers put Apple self-driving car in high gear

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Apple car
With so many people working on the Apple self-driving car, it's amazing that the best visuals we have are artists' concept renderings like this one.
Image: Aristomenis Tsirbas/Freelancer

Apple stays quiet about it, but the company is clearly developing a self-driving car. And this week the world was given a glimpse inside this project, showing that it’s much larger than many had previously thought.

The FBI arrested a former employee on Apple’s autonomous car design team for allegedly downloading proprietary information and attempting take it to a rival car company in China. The resulting documentation reveals the number of employees on the project.

Why Apple should build a car

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Apple Car might be coming, but will it be special?
Something like this concept Apple car would become a reality if a couple of analysts are correct.
Image: Aristomenis Tsirbas/Freelancer

For the last few years, Apple has been investigating making autonomous cars, even though this is well outside its core competency of computers and their accessories.

The move leaves many observers scratching their heads, but a pair of analysts put together reasons why self-driving automobiles should be Apple’s next product category.

Apple lures away senior self-driving car engineer from Google’s Waymo

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Project Titan
One of Alphabet-subsidiary Weymo's senior engineers now works on Apple autonomous cars like this one.
Photo: Idiggapple/Twitter

Jaime Waydo is leaving Google’s Waymo for Apple. This should help silence anyone who doubts that Apple is serious about its autonomous car efforts.

Waydo describes her old job at this Alphabet subsidiary as “Helping make self driving cars a reality!” Presumably, that’s what she’ll be doing in her new position too.

Apple augmented reality system could make us better drivers

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Apple's Car
Apple is working on a self-driving car, but until then its AR system would make us safer drivers.
Photo: diggapple/Twitter

Bad drivers may soon get some crucial tips on the road from Apple, if the company’s latest patent ever becomes a reality.

While everyone in tech is working on driverless car systems, it appears that Apple is looking into ways to make it safer for humans to get behind the wheel too. Apple filed for a patent this week that envisions an augmented reality system for cars that shows drivers more of what’s ahead of them than they can see with their naked eyes. And it could totally change the way we drive.

Mystery vans likely making 3-D road maps for Apple’s self-driving car

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apple van
Mysterious unmarked vans roaming the Bay Area have been linked to Apple, and are likely generating detailed 3D maps for robot cars.
Photo: Business Insider/Stephen Smith

Some new data-gathering vehicles are roaming the streets of San Francisco. They’re unmarked, but are suspected to be Apple’s. They are laden with sensors, but what kind of data are they gathering, and what for?

Experts contacted by Cult of Mac say the mystery vans are next-generation mapping vehicles capable of capturing VR-style, 360-degree street photos. Plus, the vans use Lidar to create extraordinarily precise “point clouds,” a prerequisite for self-driving cars. Mesh those two databases together and you’ve laid the groundwork for an autonomous vehicle’s navigation system.

Let’s hope Apple car is as sleek as this sci-fi Chevy

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The Chevy FNR is a concept of a self-driving car that was unveiled this week in China. Photo: General Motors/Shangai Motor Show
The Chevy FNR is a concept of a self-driving car that was unveiled this week in China. Photo: General Motors/Shangai Motor Show

Chevrolet has a concept car that looks like something Bat Man would drive. Except he wouldn’t drive it the scene of the crime. The car would drive him.

The FNR concept is a self-driving car that may never see the light of day. But for that day to come, developers must dream, and Chevy has put forth a beautifully imagined vehicle that could nudge the future in a certain direction.

The nudging began this week at the Shangai Motor Show, where General Motors showed off its idea of an autonomous electric vehicle. The FNR likely drew more oohs and awes than the new Malibu that also debuted at the show.

Apple car? Cupertino’s got the design talent to transform another industry

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BMW_Gina_concept_car
One of the designers in Apple's Industrial Design Group helped create this shape-shifting fabric-covered car for BMW. Photo: BMW

As rumors that Apple is making a self-driving car rev up, a peek under the hood of the company’s famed Industrial Design studio reveals a crew of talented automobile designers.

An interest in futuristic cars is embedded deep within the DNA of Apple’s vaunted design team. Working under Jony Ive, Apple employs designers who worked on several fantastic concept cars, including a fabric-covered BMW that shifts shape depending on speed.

Ive has long been obsessed by cars. (He has quite a stable.) As a teenager, Ive wanted to be a car designer. He visited a U.K. design school that specialized in automotives with a view to studying there, but he found the other students too weird. They were making “vroom vroom” noises as they sketched. Instead, he went to Newcastle Polytechnic (which has since been renamed Northumbria University).

A look at other key members of Apple’s design team, and at a super-secret research-and-development facility planned for the company’s new campus, offers a few clues about how Cupertino might go about producing innovative and unconventional cars.