Apple preparing to build a driverless electric car

Reports are emerging which support the assertion that Apple is indeed working on a self-driving electric car, in a project codenamed Project Titan.

The Guardian newspaper has, for the first time, obtained documents under a public records act request which reveal that the IT giant has been seeking secure locations in which to secretly test a prototype vehicle. The site of interest is the GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco which provides a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles.

The Station, which is closed to the public, includes 20 miles of roads and city streets and is promoted as suitable for “testing validation and commercialization of connected vehicle (CV) applications and autonomous vehicles (AV) technologies...” Other companies, such as Mercedes-Benz and Honda, have already conducted testing of self-driving cars at the facility.

In the documents Apple engineer Frank Fearon is quoted as saying: “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].” He continued: "We are hoping to see a presentation on the ... testing grounds with a layout, photos, and a description of how the various areas of the grounds could be used."

Rumours have for some time been circulating as to Apple's intentions of entering the car sector, with several reports of the company poaching key engineers from rival car makers such as Tesla and include the head of Mercedes Benz’s Silicon Valley research team.

This latest evidence suggests that the project is well advanced. The papers obtained by the Guardian report that in May this year, Jack Hall, the program manager for autonomous vehicles at GoMentum wrote to Apple to postpone a tour of the facility but added: "We would still like to meet in order to keep everything moving and to meet your testing schedule."

More telling still is the comment from Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, owner of GoMentum Station: "We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Apple,” says “We can’t tell you anything other than they’ve come in and they’re interested."

Regarding the latest revelations, Dr Ben Lane, director of Next Green Car commented: "While we have remained silent on the rumours up to now, the documents obtained by the Guardian provide the best evidence yet that Apple is gearing up to enter the electric and connected car market. If it turns out to be true, this will mark the biggest single event in the auto industry since Ford designed and mass-produced the Model T.

"Even Tesla, the first major disruptor of the vehicle industry until now dominated by the internal combustion engine, must be watching developments with some concern as Apple has over $260 billion (£166 billion) in assets to finance the development of a high quality vehicle. Perhaps, however, not with as much concern as some of the incumbents, including Ford, who are way behind the curve on commercializing electric drive-trains."

If it transpires that Apple is to become a player in the electric car market, the main competition will come not from existing auto companies, but from the new digital giants such as Google which has already made significant investments in autonomous car technology. While Apple can beat even Google on resources, they may have some catching-up to do to match Google's experience from its extensive on-road trials of autonomous vehicles and world-renowned mapping expertise.

Regarding the evidence obtained by The Guardian, Apple declined to comment.

The Guardian, Next Green Car

Ben Lane

Author:Ben Lane
Date Updated:14th Aug 2015

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