Last week UK’s the Guardian published a piece claiming that Apple is building its own driverless car to rival Google, Tesla, and other lesser known companies interested in the developing the product. The article caused buzz around the world. Techies everywhere celebrated the idea of continued innovation in the car industry. With Apple jumping in the ring, the idea of a driverless car is bound to succeed. Apple, after all, is home to some of the most talented engineers and product developers in the world. They can now apply their trade to developing a car that can operate without a driver. Apple fanboys even frantically searched online for ways to pre-order the product.
It turns out that in spite of the buzz, it is still not clear if Apple is indeed working on a car that can operate without a driver. The Guardian based its conclusion on the following set of facts: an Apple high ranking engineer expressed interest in the GoMentum Station vehicle testing facility, a track used to test out driverless cars during the development process. The engineer also apparently confirmed to the Guardian that yes Apple is in fact working on such a product. However, Apple rarely if ever leaks product ideas in such a sloppy fashion. The notoriously secretive company punishes anyone that reveals product designs or internal documents to the press. The supposed engineer would surely be quickly discovered and punished (or even fired) from Apple if he provided this kind of information to the Guardian or other publications.
Furthermore, even if the Guardian is correct, Apple is simply too far behind the curve to catch up with driverless car leader Google. Apple has recently hired away several automotive engineers, including a former c-suite executive from Mercedes Benz’s California research division. If Apple is just now hiring executives to build out a driverless car development team, that would mean it is a good decade or more behind Google. Though the company can surely develop all of the sophisticated navigation systems, sensors, software, firmware, hardware, and safety equipment required for a self-driving car, it will still need thousands of hours of road miles to develop the ability to simulate a human driver in a safe manner. There is simply no amount of technology that can overcome the need for testing. Google is currently averaging 10,000 miles a week. Its fleet of over 20 driverless vehicles has more than 1.7 million miles under its belt, with over half in self-driving mode.
Furthermore, Google is expanding its research and testing grounds in Austin, Texas and is on the verge of placing real life prototypes on city streets in the Bay area. Apple, on the other hand, is just starting to look for a secure location to even begin the testing process. In the world of data, knowledge is acquired exponentially. As Google cars develop more knowledge, they will be able to build on that knowledge, which in turn will result in the ability to acquire even more skills. Apple is nowhere near that stage.