According to an exclusive Reuters report, tech giant Apple is in talks with companies manufacturing LIDAR systems for its upcoming Apple Car. The report comes from three people familiar with the matter who wish to remain anonymous.
We had earlier reported on Apple’s commitment to its self-driving car venture, Project Titan, headed by ex-Tesla engineer Doug Field.
Apple Car Confirmed: How Will LIDAR Be of Help?
LIDAR systems (Light Detection and Ranging) work just like sonar on a submarine. Only instead of radio waves, lidar sends laser light to bounce off of objects and return its precise shape and distance.
The birth of self-driving technology can be attributed to David Hall, the CEO of Velodyne, a lidar manufacturing company. He has been working on lidar systems since the early 2000s. Compared to other sensors, a lidar system precisely detects the shape and nature of the object, giving clear directions to the self-driving computer onboard for navigation.
Apple wants its cars to be completely self-driven, according to a person familiar with the matter. That’s why in addition to assigning manufacturers to make lidar systems, Apple itself is researching on them furiously.
Currently, lidar systems cost around $75,000 and are big, bulky devices. The laser beam, which shoots out of lidar, requires an additional physical device. Thus, to reduce the manufacturing cost and size of lidar systems, Apple is investing almost $1 billion.
Apple is adamant that shrinking down lidar systems to cost a lot less than $75,000 could revolutionize self-driving cars.
How’s The Competition?
Despite Apple pursuing lidar, another autonomous car manufacturer, Elon Musk, thinks they are overrated. He uses a combination of cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to accomplish self-driving capabilities in Tesla cars.
Another edge that Tesla has over other manufacturers is the data. The car company started with the technology that other market players are now trying to adopt. So whether it be data about battery usage or self-driving cars, Tesla has it all.
Nonetheless, Apple has been working on its self-driving car, behind the scenes for quite some time. The company was meticulously designing every detail of their car to be as exquisite as the iPhone.
According to the anonymous source, Apple was designing doors that would always shut quietly even when slammed. This is how far Apple’s self-driving car project has been in development.
However now, Apple is only focussing on developing self-driving tech to install in already built vehicles bought from Fiat Chrysler, revealed the anonymous source.
At present, Apple is ramping up test miles on its self-driving car, and gathering equipment to improve the same. If the company manages to make lidar technology affordable then it could become an equipment supplier of autonomous cars in the future.
Google and UBER are also extensively testing their self-driving cars using the lidar system. So there’s a chance we could be seeing competitively priced lidar units from different tech manufacturers.
Volkswagen and Ford are also in the race to make self-driving cars a reality. Audi, under VW, plans to release at least one-third of all its cars as electric cars by 2025 within its e-tron range. Ford, on the other hand, is currently using VW’s funds to develop Argo AI, a self-driving technology. Ford, just like Apple, will venture into the self-driving passenger car business.
With iPhone sales slowing down across every major continent, self-driving cars could open a new revenue stream for Apple.