It seems that executives at Apple have finally felt compelled enough to let the cat out of the bag about the company's move into autonomous transportation. Finally, we have some firm facts from Apple, that conclude that the company has joined the self-driving car race ... and it's all in writing.
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Apparently, Apple has put so much time and effort into its research and development of the technology, that it needs to make sure that government regulators will be on board and supportive. Steve Kenner, Apple's director of product integrity, sent the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) a five-page letter divulging Apple's interest and commitment to self-driving cars, potentially as a plea for support. We are not talking about a former employee, or someone with knowledge on the subject, or a leaked rumor. This is the first statement from Apple concerning the company's interest in transportation. Kenner wrote:
"The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation. Executed properly under NHTSA's guidance, automated vehicles have the potential to greatly enhance the human experience — to prevent millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year and to give mobility to those without."
The letter essentially begs the NHTSA to be gracious about restrictions on self-driving car testing. Even more interesting is the fact that the letter asks for the agency to be equally fair to "new entrants" to the market. We're pretty sure that Apple isn't trying to get the NHTSA to cut Tesla some slack here.
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Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said that the letter needed to happen due to to Apple's monumental investment into machine learning and autonomous systems. He shared:
"There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry."
In the letter, Apple pointed out that there are particular areas that need extra attention. These include the implications of "algorithmic decisions for the safety, mobility and legality of automated vehicles and their occupants, ensuring privacy and security in design, and the impact of the cars on employment and public spaces."
Apple isn't the only automaker that has brought such information and concerns to the forefront. However, prior to this, Apple has been utterly secret about having anything to do with cars, self-driving, testing, etc. On one hand, this can be seen as Apple clearing the path for its future plans, and attempting to "get in good" with the NHTSA. Also, pointing out the greater potential technological concerns, could be an indirect attempt to slow regulators, as Tesla is suddenly moving forward at a very brisk pace. It has always been assumed that if and when Apple comes out of the gate with its product, Tesla would be its biggest competition, and therefore Apple's "target".
A few months ago, the Obama administration began to move forward on such regulations, providing a 15-point assessment for checking autonomous vehicle safety. The current expectation is only that automakers will voluntarily submit system information to regulators.