11/22/16 Letter to NHTSA Confirms AAPL Interest in Driverless Cars:
Speculation on what AAPL will do to capture a major product end-market to rival smartphones has centered on whether AAPL will enter the automotive market. It has been known for some time that AAPL has its Project Titan underway as just such an effort. The recent 11/22/16 letter from AAPL director of product integrity Steve Kenner to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) serves to confirm AAPL’s interest in autonomous-vehicle technology, but only as it is part of AAPL “investing heavily in machine learning and automation” for many purposes “including transportation.” With this letter, AAPL clearly indicates an interest in setting standards by working “with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry.” AAPL demonstrates specifically an interest in having auto industry participants share data on accidents and near misses so as to improve autonomous-vehicle control software systems and also a desire to have NHTSA collaborate with other international regulators to develop a “harmonized approach to automated vehicles.”
AAPL Effort Just One of Many, But Well-funded Entrants Will Win The Game:
Note that the 11/22/16 AAPL letter was only one of more than 1,100 comments submitted to NHTSA as it weighs new regulations for automated vehicles with comments coming from both industry incumbents (e.g. GM, which recently acquired Cruise Automation for $1bn to augment its autonomous vehicle program) and new entrants (e.g. Google parent company Alphabet which has already gathered over 2mm miles of public roadway testing). The NHTSA effort is aimed to put in place guidelines to assist in self-driving development. The pace of investment and consolidation in autonomous-vehicles is accelerating. Uber, recently valued at $62bn, has acquired NYC-based Geometric Intelligence Inc. which is focused on software for self-driving autos, a product area which Uber expects to roll out broadly in the near future. Meanwhile, NHTSA is investigating start-up companies such as Comma.ai which are freely distributing autonomous-vehicle software in the interest of public safety, a development underscoring that only well-funded entrants are likely to win in the development of autonomous vehicles.