Apple seeks next-gen Lidar sensors for possible Apple Car

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Apple's Car
Coming soon to a road near you? Maybe.
Photo: Aristomenis Tsirbas/Freelancer

Apple is reportedly in talks with Lidar makers regarding sensors that could be used for its Apple Car initiative.

A commonly used surveying tool, Lidar measures distances between objects. It works by firing a pulsed laser light, then measuring how long it takes to bounce back. While not exclusively used in self-driving cars, that’s the application the technology is most synonymous with.

Ex-Apple engineers pave the way for next-gen self-driving car sensors

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Aeva
It's like a Lidar crossed with an iPod.
Photo: Aeva

Apple still hasn’t publicly revealed whether it’s working on an autonomous car, but a company started by former Apple engineers certainly is.

Opening up about its plans, startup Aeva has revealed that it is building a smart sensor that will help self-driving cars make sense of the world. And, from its sleek design to its mix of hardware and software magic, it totally looks like the kind of product Apple would design and make!

Apple’s self-driving Lexus gets caught on camera

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Apple Car
Apple's Lexus is decked out in sensors.
Photo: Bloomberg

Apple’s self-driving cars have been spotted in the wild for the first time, giving fans an early peek at the tech that could change roads forever.

The California DMV issued a permit to Apple earlier this month allowing it to test its self-driving cars on public roads. Apple is only registered to drive three Lexus cars around Silicon Valley, but the company is wasting no time in its efforts to catch up to the competition.

How to spot Apple’s self-driving cars in the wild

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tim cook in a car
Tim Cook and Apple are getting serious about the auto industry.
Photo: Tim Cook/Twitter

Apple finally received permission from the California DMW to test self-driving cars on public roads this week, but spotting an Apple Car in the wild won’t be easy for fans.

Instead of making its own automobile for the streets, Apple will simply be testing its autonomous vehicle software using other company’s cars. Apple has permission to drive only three cars, so seeing them on the road might be tough.

Here’s what to look for.

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.

Mysterious Apple minivans are mapping vehicles, experts say

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What are the LIDAR units doing on this Apple van? Photo: AppleInsider video
What are the LIDAR units doing on this Apple van? Photo: AppleInsider video

The mysterious Apple minivans roaming the roads in California, Florida and elsewhere are generally assumed to be self-driving cars, but they are not. They are almost undoubtedly collecting data for maps.

They are “almost certainly a mapping vehicle,” said Paul Godsmark, chief technology officer with the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, who examined photos of the mystery vehicles at Cult of Mac’s request.