Apple reveals driverless plans: Director of AI demonstrates new autonomous tech

Published: 13 December 2017

► Apple isn’t making a car anymore
► The company wants to focus on software
► New autonomous tech can see in the rain

Apple might be known for producing iconic products like the iPhone or the MacBook, but for the last few years, it’s also taken a very keen interest in the automotive sector. Initially, rumours suggested Apple would build an entire car, but earlier this year the company’s CEO, Tim Cook confirmed otherwise. Instead of building a whole car, Cook said Apple would focus on becoming a leader in driverless technology. And now Apple has revealed just how its autonomous R&D is coming along.

At an event last Friday, Apple’s director of artificial intelligence, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, revealed Apple’s progress in the autonomous tech, and it’s looking rather impressive. According to Wired, Salakhutdinov showed attendees the way in which Apple AI takes images from cameras and sensors to map and better understand environments – and he also unveiled some other innovative driverless software, too.

Another project was able to identify the drivable parts of a road as well as pedestrians and vehicles – just from multiple cameras mounted on a car. Significantly, Salakhutdinov demonstrated that the software was functional even when raindrops were on the camera, a huge step-forward for driverless systems.

Apple car tech unboxing: will Apple power your next driverless car?

Apple has always been known for keeping its R&D secret, so this recent demonstration represents a huge U-turn for the Californian company. While the likes of Google and Intel are happy to publish their research and findings on driverless tech, Apple has been relatively quiet until now.

So why is Apple opening up?

Part of the reason could lie in the event Apple showed its demonstration. Called NIPS, it was an event solely based on machine learning and attended by around 8000 people, including many university graduates – and Elon Musk.

Perhaps Apple has realised that to secure the best talent, it’ll need to be far more open about what it’s currently working on. And that means we now know a lot more about its driverless ambitions.

Driverless cars: Apple’s end game

Once Apple is able to hire more engineers, and once it finally has a proper product, it’s likely the company will then begin to sell and license its software to OEMs. In the same way that laptops and computers of different brands may say ‘Intel inside’, it’s possible that driverless cars in the future could be ‘powered by Apple tech.’

Which might explain why locals in California are spotting occasional driverless prototypes such as the Lexus RX (in our gallery, above) testing near Apple's HQ...

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By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast