They’re the crossover athlete everyone talks about. The guy that plays football, but everyone says would make a top tier MLB player. There have been plenty of rumors about if such a transition might happen for years, but nothing ever really came of them. But now, after spending all this time sitting in the bleachers, it appears they’re finally ready to step out onto the ball field and take a swing.
Except they want to use their own bat, their own ball, and the other team has to teach them how to play.
This is the position Apple has seemingly placed themselves in regarding their entrance into the realm of autonomous vehicles. It was revealed in early December that Apple had penned a five-page letter to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announcing their excitement of “the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.” The letter serves as Apple’s first official statement on their interest in the automotive industry, and although we’ve reported on Apple’s actions regarding autonomous vehicles in the past, there haven’t been any confirmed reports from the company about these decisions. Now, it appears that Apple has indeed set their eyes on foraying into the business of placing their own automated systems in vehicles, which apparently comes with a list of caveats from the tech giant, each with their own implications.
First, they want the data concerning on-road accidents and near-misses shared openly between all companies, a move that some are calling “unorthodox.” While it certainly sounds great in practice, Apple seems to hold the larger end of the stick here, unless they have some secret trove of vehicle data they can offer in return. However, they also mentioned that the sharing of this data should in no way infringe on a user’s privacy. Knowing Apple’s stance on privacy protection (remember their little tussle with the FBI?), this is to be anticipated and should be seen as nothing but a positive.
Finally, Apple wants the NHTSA to treat established manufacturers and new entrants equally, referencing the rules that govern how companies are allowed to test automated vehicles (currently, Apple would need a special exemption to perform such tests). This one is a toss-up, as while Apple is certainly the key “new entrant” referenced here, we can’t forget that Tesla, the unwritten king of the mainstream autonomous vehicle, released their first car not even a decade ago, making Apple’s request a viable one.
All in all, what does this letter mean for the future of the automotive industry? Well for starters, this places the probability of Apple building their own car very low, as they seem to be more interested in the technology within the vehicles themselves. Outside of that, all the letter seems to confirm is that while Apple is ready to step up to the plate, it’s going to be on their terms.
Now it’s time to see whether the NHTSA decides to play ball.