- Apple is actively seeking out possible suppliers for next-generation LiDAR sensors even as it works internally on its own unit, according to a report by Reuters. It’s the latest signal of Apple’s ambitions to work on self-driving car technology.
- According to Reuters, Apple has held talks with at least four companies that could be possible suppliers, and is seeking sensors that could see hundreds of yards down the road. A person familiar with the discussions told Reuters that Apple is seeking a “revolutionary design” that would also be cheaper than available LiDAR units.
- Apple recently re-hired Doug Field, who had been at Tesla, to head up its autonomous vehicle (AV) unit known as “Project Titan.” It’s unclear if Apple will build a vehicle on its own, or simply design hardware and software that could support an autonomous passenger car.
Apple has closely guarded the self-driving car unit, although it has been actively testing cars. According to reports filed with the State of California, Apple's AVs drove nearly 80,000 miles in autonomous mode last year, the third most of any company permitted in the state (albeit with a high rate of disengagements, a sign that the company’s technology is not yet mature). Under Field, who rejoined Apple last year, the AV project has significantly retooled after 190 employees were laid off earlier this year.
Reuters reports that Apple wants a “sleek” and “design-oriented” LiDAR sensor that could be unobtrusive on a vehicle, a possible indication that Apple seeks to control the perception and sensor “stack” for an AV. LiDAR sensors measure distance using laser pulses; dropping their cost and capacity is seen as key to getting AVs on the road.
Waymo recently announced plans to sell custom short-range LiDAR sensors to partners in the robotics, security and agriculture sectors in order to create a larger market for the technology. Auto companies like Volvo have been investing in sensor companies to help jump the technology forward, and in October two former Apple engineers working for Aeva said they had engineered a “generational leap” for the technology that would allow cars to predict where pedestrians or obstacles might go.