Perhaps Apple is concerned that Tesla is suddenly moving too quickly? Or, is Apple trying to make good with regulators in advance to save a headache later? It’s hard to know Apple’s intentions, but what we do know is that Apple has officially publicized that it has self-driving car or autonomous technology plans in place. This is the first clearly factual and official move by the company. Apple’s current director of product integrity, Steve Kenner, drafted and delivered a five-page letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 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 goes on to ask for the NHTSA’s support for new companies in the self-driving car race, and to assure that regulations are fair. Apple’s substantial R&D spending toward machine learning and autonomous systems, finally forced the company to “touch base” with regulators, and as a result, the company’s hard-kept secret is now revealed.
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.”
These two individuals named above are official and current Apple employees and this information went public. It is not leaked rumors from a former employee, or speculation, or “people familiar with the matter”. It was only a matter of time that eventually information would have to come out for Apple to successfully move forward, and now we have it.
The letter brought particular attention to Apple’s awareness of areas that need further attention as the technology moves forward. The areas referenced dealt with “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 may have a double motive in all of this. As most in the field assume that Apple’s primary competition will be Tesla, and then other startups that are surfacing or will surface between now and when Apple enters the market, Apple could be unofficially “teaming” with the NHTSA to point out potential concerns and flaws thus slowing regulators. Apple wants to “help” regulators and “define best practices”. All the while, as Apple points out such issues and has proven solutions in place, regulators could potentially be more willing to allow Apple to move forward.
The Obama administration is already well underway with initial regulations. Currently, a voluntary 15-point assessment is in place for checking autonomous vehicle safety. Automakers are expected to assure that vehicles comply and then forward compliance information to the NHTSA.