This article was updated on 19 August to discuss meetings between Apple executives and staff at a disused naval base, "the largest secure test facility in the world". It was previously updated on 10 August to cover Apple's reported meetings and negotiations with BMW, and additional hirings from the car industry. Also in this article: more evidence that Apple isn't making an iCar, as the cars driving around the US in February are confirmed to be Apple's mapping vehicles, and mention of a new report published from The Register claiming that Apple is reassigning workers to Project Titan on a big scale.
In the past few weeks there have been various reports that Apple is working on a car that'd "give Tesla a run for its money" after Business Insider spoke to an Apple employee with knowledge of the subject. This coupled with a sightings of cars registered to Apple, clad with sensors/cameras has everyone talking.
The iCar project is codenamed 'Titan', according to The Wall Street Journal, which states that there are "several hundred" Apple employees working on the project. With some reports describing an electric car and others describing a self driving car, is there any truth to the claim or is it like the revamped Apple TV set that had everyone talking four years ago? Well…
Evidence that Apple isn't working on an iCar
Like with any Apple rumour, you're never too sure what to believe. The iCar rumour isn't a new one, though. In a May 2012 interview, Mickey Drexler, who had a seat on Apple's board of directors, said Steve Jobs wanted to rethink the automotive industry before his death. The fact of the matter is that Apple may very well be working on the much talked about iCar - but it may not ever see the light of day. Apple, like many other tech giants such as Google, have potentially hundreds of secret projects that don't make it to market - this may be the case for the iCar.
The on board equipment spotted on the Apple registered vans could be used for something other than navigating a self driving car - Apple could well be creating its own version of Google's Street View. This was seemingly confirmed on the 20th February when Cult of Mac had Paul Godsmark, chief technology officer at the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, look at the photos of the supposed iCar. He said that it's "almost certainly a mapping vehicle". He also specifically spoke about the LIDAR, a laser that spins at 10 revolutions per second and enables 360-degree vision, stating, "I am fairly certain that the vehicle in your photo is not an autonomous one, but that it is being used for mapping."
Both Google and Apple offer 3D maps with satellite views, the only difference is that Google boasts a Street View, allowing you to see the street from a cars point of view, allowing you to plan your journeys more thoroughly. Apple has worked hard since its rocky beginning with Maps and this may just be another step in that direction.
The CEO of Mercedes also has dismissed iCar rumours, despite reports that Johann Jungwirth, the man in charge of the Mercedes-Benz R&D facility in Silicon Valley that produced the Mercedes F 015 self-driving car, has moved to Apple to work on the iCar. At the launch of the new Mercedes-AMG C63, Dieter Zetsche said that he wasn't losing any sleep thinking about the rumoured self-driving car.
"If there were a rumour that Mercedes or Daimler planned to start building smartphones then [Apple] would not be sleepless at night. And the same applies to me," Zetsche argued. "And this is full of respect for Apple. That is what I am saying."
However, it seems to be the final nail in the iCar (or at least the vehicles we've been seeing driving around) as in June, Apple confirmed with a new website entitled "Apple Maps vehicles" that the vehicles are going "around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps". See below for more information.
Evidence that Apple is working on an iCar
However, even with Apple confirming that the rumoured iCar is nothing more than a mapping vehicle, there is some interesting evidence that Apple is working on an iCar.
Apple 'testing a self-driving car at a War World II naval base'
Project Titan is on its way, at least according to the Guardian.
The newspaper reports that Apple has already developed its self-driving car, and now it just needs to be tested.
Unlike many carmakers - such as Google and Tesla - that are testing their self-driving vehicles on public roads, Apple wants to keep a low profile. That means the company needs some barricaded doors behind which it can test its secretive projects.
Apparently Apple has found the perfect top-secret testing base. Bak in May, according to the Guardian, Apple's engineers met officials from GoMentum Station, a War World II-epoch disused naval base near San Francisco.
The base reportedly hosts 20 miles of everyday public transport scenarios, from highways to cattle grids; its 24-hour surveillance by armed soldiers prevents the public from nosing around the facility. According to GoMentum officials, the base is "the largest secure test facility in the world".
However, it's worth mentioning that the leaked report obtained by the Guardian consists of a filed public requests record about the meeting between Apple's team and GoMentum officials. There is no mention of an Apple iCar, and the most revealing clue comes from Apple engineer Frank Fearon, who said: "We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [GoMentum]."
A number of outlets have reported that Apple and the German automaker BMW have been meeting with one another, with Reuters reporting that Tim Cook and other Apple bigwigs visited the BMW production facility in Leipzig.
In particular, Apple seems interested in the carbon-fibre-reinforced BMW i3 electric vehicle, reportedly the most energy-efficient car in the US. It's believed that the i3 could form the basis of the rumoured iCar.
It's further been claimed that negotiations between Apple and BMW started in autumn 2014 and are approaching a final deal.
However, it's worth pointing out that BMW was the first carmaker to incorporate iPod facilities into its vehicles, and that it is entirely possible that Apple is simply looking to secure an agreement with the German company to move its CarPlay project forward.
Hiring car-industry veterans
Perhaps the clearest sign of Apple's interest in the car industry is the number of new hires it's made from that field.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Tim Cook has hired Doug Betts, a veteran of the car industry. Doug Betts has 25 years of experience working for Nissan and Toyota; from 2007 until last year, he was senior vice-president of Global Quality at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
The automobile expert has changed his Linkedln profile. He describes his current job as "operation-Apple Inc.", which could be interpreted as evidence to back up the WSJ's rumour. On the other hand, this cryptic statement could mean a lot of things.
Since February 2015, Apple seems to have been quietly cherry-picking automobile-industry experts - such as Paul Furgale, the Swiss researcher who led the V-Charge project developing self-parking cars.
Business Insider's source claims that Tesla employees are "jumping ship" to go and work at Apple. Evidence via LinkedIn supports this claim, with 50 profiles of current Apple employees that have an engineering history at Tesla, mainly through internships. Apple Insider reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that Apple is trying very hard to get Tesla engineers, offering them a $250k signing bonus and 60 percent pay increase.
The Korea Times has reported that Apple is also luring Samsung's tech experts away from them, namely experts in battery technology; perhaps to work on batteries for the iPhone, but also, reports suggest to work on a battery powered electric car. "Some of our personnel have been hired by Apple. They now work at Apple's headquarters in San Jose, Calif.," claimed one anonymous Samsung official, stating that Apple offer competitive benefits and large annual paychecks.
If Apple is entering the electric car arena, the company is pretty late to the game and will be looking to file patents. It has already filed a few, as you will see below. "As the electric vehicle business is a new one, Apple needs patents and experts in battery technology. Top human resources firms have been approaching Samsung's battery experts, individually, and I think such human exchange moves are a win-win for both," said the Samsung official.
It's easy to write this off as an unconfirmed rumour, but it does fit in with a lawsuit that was filed earlier this month claiming that Apple engaged in an "aggressive campaign" to poach engineers from electric car battery maker A123 Systems.
Most recently, The Register reports that Apple is reassigning workers to its car project at such a fast pace that other department leaders are beginning to complain about the loss of talent. Though Project Titan remains shrouded in mystery, reassigning such a number of staff from a variety of departments does point towards work on a significant scale, and possibly a move into a completely new industry.
'Apple cars' spotted
There are also the cars that have been spotted roaming the US, which are apparently registered to Apple and are clad in sensors. In this YouTube video, you can get a closer look at some of the technology being used and can clearly see the LIDAR, which some readers thought was used for a self-driving car. Since then it has been debunked by chief technology officer at the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence Paul Godsmark, noting that he's "fairly certain" that the real use for the car is mapping purposes.
Secret iCar facility
There has also been talk of a secret automobile R&D facility where Apple is recruiting experts to potentially build the iCar. It's apparently run by the ex head of R&D at Mercedes, Johann Jungwirth, and will be staffed with "experienced managers from its iPhone unit", according to The Times. They carry on to say that the seniority of the executives involved would suggest that an iCar could be in the works. They've also reported that Jony Ive and members of his industrial design team, who are responsible for most of Apples products, have been holding regular meetings with automotive execs and have even tried hiring them.
When will the Apple iCar launch?
Once you get over the initial excitement of the iCar speculation, there's one question on everyones lips - when will it launch?
Of course, until we see Tim Cook on stage announcing the iCar, no one knows for sure. But Bloomberg is among the brave outlets willing to put a time frame on the iCar development, reporting that Apple will release the iCar as soon as 2020. They claim to have spoken to people close to the matter, who say: "Apple, which has been working secretly on a car, is pushing its team to begin production of an electric vehicle as early as 2020."
Automakers usually spend between five and seven years developing a car, which shows Apple's aggressive and demanding goals for its team. Is it gearing up for a battle against GM and Tesla? Both aim to have electric vehicles that travel over 200 miles on a single charge on the market by 2017.
Outspoken Apple analyst and lover of Apple TV rumours Gene Munster reportedly told clients in a note on Saturday that we shouldn't expect the iCar for at least five years. He believes that a TV will be coming before an iCar, simply because profits are even smaller on cars than they are on TVs - a TV would also make more sense with Apple's hardware/software background, he says.
Apple iCar rumours: Driverless or electric?
There are two main iCar rumours circulating the internet at the moment;
- The iCar will be driverless.
- The iCar will be electric.
The first report of a driverless car came from CBS Local San Francisco, publishing a story on 3 February about the cars and the tech that they had on the roof. The idea was then covered by other reputable sources with initial comments saying that the cameras are pointed at the corners of the car and thus can't be used for an Apple powered Street View rival. Unfortunately the dream of an automated iCar seems to have been shattered by car technology expert Paul Godsmark, noting that he's "fairly certain" that the real use for the car that everyone is talking about is mapping purposes.
The second rumour, that the iCar will be electric, seems to be the more likely of the two. With evidence of ex Tesla employees now working at Apple apparent on LinkedIn and with Elon Musk admitting that Apple are tying to poach their engineers, it seems the logical explanation that Apple will create something similar to what Tesla currently manufactures - the best electric cars available on the market.
What will the Apple iCar look like?
Will it have a similar look to Google's driverless pod style cars? The answer is that no one knows for sure - the cars in question seem to be Dodge Grand Caravans and are unlikely to bear any resemblance to anything Apple might announce.
Apple goes to extreme lengths to protect the details of its products before release and we expect nothing different from the iCar. It'd be a cold day in hell before Apple drives its finished product around before the announcement!
Still, people often describe Apple products as beautiful - and we think that Apple will launch a car that people will fall in love with... if indeed it does launch a car.
Apple iCar: Patents
It's not that Apple hasn't filed patents in this area. It would appear that the research and development arm of Apple has been researching automotive technology for over a decade with most being discovered by Cult Of Mac.
One such patent, filed in 2011, would allow you to unlock your car and start your engine from an iDevice such as your iPhone or iPad.
Another interesting patent, filed in 2009, shows a design with in car camera technology - what it was intended for is anyone's guess, but we can speculate that it could be used to detect hand gestures that could control car functions, such as the locking system or headlights.
This early 2012 patent concentrates on the configuration of the vehicle. It tries to solve the problem of how multiple people can all use one car but still be comfortable. The answer that Apple came up with? Use an iPhone to program user preferences from seat position to ideal temperature to favourite radio stations - similar (but not so advanced) to what Range Rover does with memorising the drivers favourite seat position in its Sport model.
Apple goes one step further with this patent - you could theoretically get in someone else's car and have the same preferences you have in your car instantly set for you.
Another patent describes using the iPhone's geo-location abilities to monitor and control certain car functions based on geofences. The idea is to utilise the signals sent from your iPhone to, for example, unlock your car as you approach it and lock it as you walk away. Other functions for this patent could include opening the boot when you stand at the rear of the car - a function that would definitely come in handy when shopping!
Apple iCar: Leaked images
These pictures were sent in to Claycord News & Talk by people in the local area
The first sightings of the iCar were in New York and San Francisco but have also since been spotted since in Hawaii, California and other US States
Here are the pictures that drove the Internet crazy back in February - the iCar that was seen roaming the streets of the San Francisco and New York, originally posted by Claycord News & Talk. There was also an interesting YouTube video of the car posted, giving you a closer look before it drove away.
As you can see, there are a myriad of sensors and cameras attached to this (rather dull-looking) van that looks very similar to Google's Street View van.
The issue is whether this is actually an Apple owned/rented vehicle - CBS Local San Francisco claims: "According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the car is leased to Apple." The issue with that claim is that in the US, motor vehicle departments don’t release that kind of information to anyone - they wouldn’t even supply it to a private investigator without a legitimate reason for needing it.
However, as stated above, Apple has since explained on a new section of its site that these are in fact mapping vehicles collecting data to be used in future versions of Apple Maps. If you've seen one of these vehicles in person and are worried that you'll end up on Apple's version of Google's Street View, don't worry - Apple has placed an emphasis on privacy and will ensure that faces and licence plates in images will be blurred before being published.
The website has even listed all the locations that Apple’s cars will be driving around throughout July, so if (for whatever reason) you want to see the mapping vehicles, head on over to the Apple Vehicles page and take a look.
If Apple is indeed making an iCar, electric or fully automated, we probably won’t be seeing it on public roads any time soon!
Apple iCar rumours: Pricing
There's nothing in the way of pricing available yet, but we can take a look at Tesla's latest car and speculate that the iCar would be a similar price - as they're apparently now automotive industry rivals.
Tesla's 2015 Model S, the company’s latest electric car offering costs a whopping £67,980 with the "tech pack", something that I imagine an iCar would come with as standard. If Tesla is the benchmark then the iCar certainly won't be cheap but will be a thing of beauty!
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