The robocars wars are really heating up. Two weeks ago, The Guardian outed Google Auto, the stealth self-driving car company the search giant set up in 2011. Today, the Guardian has a new report with what seems like the first definitive news that Apple is building an autonomous vehicle of its own:
Apple is building a self-driving car in Silicon Valley, and is scouting for secure locations in the San Francisco Bay area to test it, the Guardian has learned. Documents show the oft-rumoured Apple car project appears to be further along than many suspected.
In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles.
In correspondence obtained by the Guardian under a public records act request, Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: “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 [it].”
The code name for Cupertino's robotic car operation is Project Titan, which the Wall Street Journal reported in February. In recent months Apple CEO Tim Cook has had meetings with car manufacturers, and the company has been poaching engineers with expertise in automotive. It's also been making investments in artificial intelligence and computer vision, two important fields for making robotic cars work.
According to documents obtained by The Guardian, Apple has set up a nondescript satellite office that houses staff dedicated to the project. As is to be expected, access is restricted.
According to The Guardian, Apple has been looking into testing its robocars at GoMentum Station, which is an old naval weapons station 40 miles north of Silicon Valley. With some 20 miles of highways and roads, it's a bit like an older version of MicCity, a fake town set up by the University of Michigan to test and research self-driving cars. The big plus with GoMentum station, though, is the level of security and privacy it offers, which if you know Apple, is a big plus. The company has a long history of CIA-level secrecy.
Other companies working on self-driving cars, including Google and Tesla, have expressed interest in testing their vehicles there. But, according to The Guardian, only Honda "has signed a $250,000 memorandum of understanding with the facility to begin testing." Honda plans to "use self-driving versions of its RLX saloon to accelerate the development of automated and connected vehicle technologies far from prying eyes."
Autonomous cars are going to require very detailed mapping. Google is the clear leader here, though Apple, too, has made investments in mapping in recent years. Last week, automakers Mercedes Benz, Audi and BMW announced they'd pooled together $3.1 billion to collectively buy Nokia’s digital mapping tech, dubbed HERE.
The self-driving car space is looking more and more like the smartphone market, where Apple and Google are the clear leaders, and everyone else is trying to catch up.
Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.