Tech Buzz

Apple Car Evidence Piles Up

Apple is in the process of scouting for locations outside of San Francisco to test an autonomous vehicle it’s developing, The Guardian reported last week.

Documents obtained by the paper suggest the oft-rumored Apple car project could be much further along than previous reports have indicated.

Giving credence to that view is the fact that engineers in Apple’s Special Project group earlier this year met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre facility that used to be a naval base. Work already is under way to transform the site, which is near San Francisco, into a high-tech, high-security testing ground for self-driving cars, The Guardian said.

The facility, which was established in 1942 as the Concord Naval Weapons Station on the shores of the Sacramento River and served as an armament storage depot during the Second World War, already features nearly 20 miles of paved roadways.

It was closed in 2007, but the Intelligent Transportation Society of America last year announced that the site would be turned into a proving ground for autonomous vehicles.

Even if the rumors of an Apple self-driving car are true, it’s not the only company eyeing the site as a testing facility, however. German automaker Mercedes Benz announced a partnership with the City of Concord and the U.S. Navy to utilize GoMentum Station.

Titanic Project?

Rumors of Apple’s self-driving car, codenamed “Project Titan,” have circulated for some time, but the documents obtained by The Guardian represent the first “paper trail” that suggests the project is really in the works.

The fact that Apple chief executive Tim Cook has had meetings with auto industry executives in recent months adds greater credibility to the reports.

“With Apple, all they have to do is wink at something and rumors pop up, but with that much money you can do anything you want — so why not develop a car?” asked Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“It may be out of their area of expertise today, but we’re seeing that Google and other tech companies are getting involved,” he told TechNewsWorld.

For Apple, it may represent a way to break into new markets as well.

“Apple is running out of steam with personal electronics. The watch isn’t doing that well, and most other areas are dominated by low-margin products,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Apple looked at TVs hard but didn’t like what they saw at all,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So cars — high-end electric self-driving cars — appears to be one of the areas they are exploring for growth.”

How Far Ahead

Of particular interest is the suggestion that Apple’s car project may be more advanced than anyone watching the company previously guessed.

“If the rumors are to be believed, then Project Titan might be further than just a baseline electric vehicle and might be including self-driving capabilities,” said Praveen Chandrasekar, telematics program manager with Frost & Sullivan.

Apple would have to play catch-up with Google — which no doubt is much farther ahead on the sensor, mapping and solution side, with more than a million miles of road testing — but Apple has very similar capabilities, Chandrasekar told TechNewsWorld.

“Going by everything Apple is trying to do on Project Titan, the end result might be a Tesla-like high end EV model with a lot of connected services and computing power to achieve different levels of automation,” he added.

“The key here is to see the convergence of Apple Carplay, Homekit, Watch and the patents that Apple has around tactile user interfaces that are reprogrammable, which gives them amazing capabilities,” Chandrasekar explained.

The race to develop a vehicle may be a natural evolution for tech companies, and the business strategies for the players could reflect their current positioning, which would suggest that Apple would opt to produce a premium automotive product.

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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