Apple still exploring driverless cars as UK Government announces investment

Picture: Department of Transport

Apple has secured a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed today. Apple joins a growing list of traditional car makers, technology companies, and start-ups to test drive cars in California; all vying to be the first to bring driverless cars to the masses. Companies that have been issued permits also include Google, Ford, Volkswagen, Daimler, Tesla Motors and General Motors.

Many companies have said the first cars will launch in 2020 but some experts believe it may take much longer due to regulatory challenges, reports Reuters, After a five-page letter written last November from Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the company was the subject of speculation that it would enter into the self-driving sector.

“The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation,” Kenner wrote. At one stage Apple had 1,000 people working on its driverless car project, dubbed Titan, but last autumn was said to have scaled it back. Earlier this month, however, it was reported to have hired a number of automotive experts to work on visual navigation, robotics, and computer vision.

Earlier this week, UK Business Secretary Greg Clark and Transport Minister John Hayes announced UK Government funding of £109.7m, alongside funding from industry, to help develop the next generation of driverless and low-carbon vehicles. Seven innovative projects will share grants from the latest round of funding from the Advanced Propulsion Centre, the joint industry-government programme aiming to put the UK at the forefront of low carbon vehicle technology.

The projects, led by BMW, CNH Industrial, Ford Motor Company, Jaguar Land Rover, Penso Consulting, Westfield Sportscars and Williams Advanced Engineering, cover a wide range of new innovations which will help the UK to continue to build on its excellence and become a global leader in low-emissions technology, and according to the Government will safeguard 2,370 jobs in the UK.

Successful schemes include:

  • the development of a high power battery suitable for high-performance vehicles
  • a project to address gaps in and strengthen the UK supply chain
  • the development of the fuelling system for a concept gas tractor
  • technologies to reduce the weight and improve electrification in SUV vehicle platforms

A further seven projects have won funding from the Government’s Office for Low Emissions Vehicles to advance the development of a range of ultra-low and zero emissions vehicle technologies in the UK. These projects will be led by Equipmake, Ford Motor Company, Great British Sports Cars, Jaguar Land Rover, Ricardo Innovations, Romax Technology and Wrightbus.

“Low carbon and driverless cars are the future,” said Greg Clerk, “and as a Government we are determined … to build on our strengths and put the UK at the forefront of this revolution. Investment in this technology is an integral part of this Government’s efforts, to ensure the UK auto sector remains competitive and world-leading.”