Apple's self-contained secret car project begins to make its way

One of the most common words associated with Apple's autonomous car program is "secret." Unlike most of its competitors, Apple has been frustrated about the cars it is testing in California. On Wednesday, the company had the opportunity to raise the curtain on the so-called "Titan Project" with the release of its voluntary safety report to the federal regulators. But, unsurprisingly, the smartphone giant always keeps the most fascinating details secret.

Apple's report is almost comically short: seven pages, compared with an average length of 39 pages from other companies that submitted reports. In this document, Apple describes its interest in self-driving systems in general and cost-effective terms, but it is not concerned with almost all the key details of the project. There is nothing about future deployments or commercial applications of the technology. There are no photos or renderings that can cover the length of the report, as do other companies.

Of course, it's not Apple's fault, really. It is rather the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) of the United States to have made these disclosures quite voluntary. The Obama administration has been the first to request voluntary safety reports to companies that test autonomous cars; The Trump administration has relaxed the rules even further, arguing that anything that could be remotely interpreted as mandatory could hinder innovation. As a result, the reports reflect the quantity (or, in the case of Apple, how little) individual companies want to spread their message of self-driving.

The original reports of Waymo, Ford and GM looked more like brilliant marketing brochures than anything else. In general, they do not have relevant statistics, such as fleet size, total kilometers traveled, and disengagement rates (the number of times the vehicle software has forced a driver responsible for human security to take control of the driving of the vehicle). In addition, there is no federal or state system for independent certification of technology. We just have to take them at their word.

Apple's Titan project has been changing since its creation. After starting with the goal of developing a stand-alone car specifically designed for the purpose, the plans were then reduced to a simple software development, Apple partnering with automakers such as Volkswagen to provide the hardware. . Last month, an Apple employee of Chinese nationality was charged by the FBI with attempted theft of trade secrets related to the company's autonomous car project. It was the second time the government accused an Apple employee of trying to steal self-driving secrets in the past seven months. Apple has also recently fired about 200 project employees.

The changes are relatively small, as 5,000 people were working on the project or had access to its details last July. Confirming the restructuring, Apple said that former Titan employees "would support machine learning and other initiatives, across the entire Apple company". He described the project's objective as "autonomous systems" rather than vehicles. This echoed comments from CEO Tim Cook, who suggested that his goal went beyond cars. Apple has called this initiative "the most ambitious machine learning project of all time".

This is also reflected in the safety report. "We are investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and we are excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation," the company said in a statement. 39; introduction. Apple's autonomous cars are tested on a closed test site as well as by simulation before meeting its standards for road preparation.

Yet there is not much in the report that we do not know already or could have supposed. Most of the information we have about Apple's testing program comes from leaks in the media, court documents, and mandatory state-level information, such as California's disengagement reports, which are widely criticized. These reports, which fell last week, revealed that Apple had significantly increased the number of kilometers traveled autonomously. In total, the company reported 80,739 miles traveled and 76,585 disengagements during a reporting period spreading from April 2017 to November 2018.

Apple said it initially divided the divestments into two categories: manual takeovers and software releases. In June 2018, it had 40 198 units and 36 359 the first ones. Following its new methodology from July 2018, Apple announced 28 "significant disengagements" on 56,135 miles, a rate of one on every 2,005 miles traveled.

This ambiguity around disengagement has led many experts to dismiss California reports as completely meaningless. But at least some data can be tracked over time. They are imperfect, but they are better than nothing. The same can not be said of these voluntary safety reports.

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