“What’s that in the road?” one can imagine the self-driving car’s computer calculating to itself.
“It’s a stationary object,“ the computer thinks. “No, wait. It’s a person. It’s a stationary person.”
“Um. No. That’s a moving pedestrian, and …”
Screech! The self-driving car’s human passenger takes control and slams on the brakes.
And a jogger lives to run another day.
So it’s gone with efforts by Apple to develop a self-driving car.
Not content with being a pioneer in computers, including the world-changing iPhone, Apple wants to envelop and whisk you about in one of its automobiles.
Of course, an autonomous vehicle would be the “mother of all” efforts in artificial intelligence, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Problem is, Cook seems like he may not be all that into self-driving vehicles. Despite Apple’s development of at least 50 test vehicles since it began autonomous driving research in 2014, Cook hasn’t yet approved mass production of the cars.
And the project has also suffered from a turnover in leaders and wasted efforts on making prototype vehicles pretty instead of functional, according to The Information’s conversations with 20 Apple employees.
Highly skeptical of the car project is Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, who has expressed his displeasure to other top Apple executives. And matters aren’t helped by Cook rarely visiting the project’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California, the report said, according to The Daily Mail.
Like many of the company’s experiments, the autonomous car program, called Project Titan, is in some respects one of its typical efforts — successful or not, Apple often goes all-in on a product and swings for the fences.
As a result, Apple engineers have envisioned a car with no controls for humans to tamper with; rather, passengers will sit in four seats facing each other beneath a curved roof similar to that of a Volkswagen Beetle. There may be capability for seats to recline to allow sleep while traveling.
Good thing that earlier this year there was still human intervention that kept an Apple prototype self-driving car traveling at 15 mph from striking a jogger.
And that close call prompted Apple to temporarily keep its cars off the road while their designers revamped software.
Former Apple chief design officer Jony Ive is now working as a consultant on the car project and has told the company to make the cars’ sensors more visible, advising Apple execs to “lean into the weirdness” of the vehicles.
To promote the vehicles within Apple, their project team fashioned some whiz-bang videos of the cars driving through Montana. Problem was, the self-driving cars were putting on a show for overhead drone cameras on a 40-mile route that the vehicles had already learned.
“If you spend enough money, you can get almost any fixed route to work,” according to Arun Venkatadri, who was once an autonomous vehicle engineer for Uber.
“But what’s not known is whether you can build your self-driving software in a scalable way and whether you can operate it in a reasonably broad area,” Venkatadri told The Information.
Besides the incident with the jogger, Apple cars have had problems driving city streets around Cupertino, California – they’ve hit curbs and after crossing intersections have had difficulty staying in their lanes.
Meanwhile, Tesla’s automation features, while falling short of self-driving, are under federal investigation as a result of 200 crashes, including a fatal crash last week in Florida that killed two people, according to The New York Post.
There are reports Apple wants to introduce a brand of self-driving cars to the market by 2025. Within the last four years, it increased its test fleet from 27 vehicles to more than 50.
But besides the vehicles’ mishaps and being plagued by mixed signals among top Apple executives, the company also faces the problem shown in a recent Consumer Reports survey indicating 28 percent of Americans won’t consider any kind of electric vehicle from any manufacturer including Tesla and the major car companies, according to Yahoo News.
And that’s just for electric vehicles, with no consideration about whether they are self-driving or not.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.