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There was once a time where Google, and its parent group ABC, Inc. were the only names making way for an age of self-driving cars with Project Waymo. Proposing new rules and safety standards with the NHTSA and pushing Congress for self-driving cars eventually gave other names, large and small, to enter the race. Apple introduced its own project Titan to match its rival with its own autonomous car in 2016. While Google waited for self-driving cars to become more practical, it founds its way into automaker consoles as the Allo Google Assistant, the Kia Google Assistant app, and becoming the (Google) OS for software-defined vehicles by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Hitting its own snag with modern technology, Apple is taking Titan and turning it into artificially intelligent software that can provide level 5 autonomy within a limited space.
Like pilot projects for robotaxis, a limited space means certain driving conditions and roadways. When a robotaxi is first developed and released to the public, it’s usually for a certain location, and one that the system has been programmed and tested to handle, such as busy metropolitan areas. The opposite area is best for for cars that would provide Level 5 autonomy. Watching a movie or playing a video game isn’t currently possible –safely and responsibly at least – with today’s cars. Even Level 4 autonomy doesn’t provide that kind of freedom.
Self-driving technology has come a long way though. Able to safely travel through heavily populated areas and manage traffic on the highway, Apple is focused on designing a vehicle that lets consumers perform other tasks with a system that only controls the steering wheel and pedals when on the highway. Able to switch seamlessly between autonomy and manual control once entering a city or driving in questionable weather conditions, this new technology is possible thanks to a powerful onboard computer system and a custom array of sensors. Apple had discussed launching this feature in North America initially by 2025, but recently pushed the project back to 2026.
Launching self-driving cars also opens up the avenue for new services. This is new ground for many drivers to figure out, and Apple currently has a cloud-based server with artificial-intelligence to aid in the performance of the onboard software, but it’s a costly venture of $125 million per year with hosting from Amazon Web Services. The company is investigating the prospect of setting up remote command centers to assist drivers and take control of vehicles for drivers that need more of a “hands-on” approach to helping with an autonomous vehicle, especially in emergency cases. Insurance is another hurdle the company has to figure out before offering self-driving car technology, even if only part-time.
Once the new feature goes through extensive testing, Apple also wants to expand the application of Level 5 autonomy to turn automobile cabin interiors into digital lounges and operate like a mobile living spaces. One example is a limousine-like interior where passengers can face each other and converse. In movies and presentations, the tinting of windows and windshield to turn the cabin into a movie lounge could even one day be feasible if the car is in full control. That’s why highway operation is the goal, where traffic is more predictable and manageable. Watching a movie wouldn’t be wise in stop-and-go traffic in a metro area, but out on the open road, where managing speed and picking the correct lane are the height of human-driver worries, a computer can surely take over and keep the vehicle on the way to its destination safely.
Electric vehicles (EVs), software-defined vehicles, and self-driving cars seem to be all the auto industry is talking about these days. Always happy to read more about upcoming car technology, we at NowCar welcome it. If you want to stay up to date on the latest car tech, follow us on NowCar social media to learn more about new features coming to cars of the new decade.