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Apple in talks to buy autonomous sensors, a key step in the autonomous car plan

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Apple Inc. is in talks with several vendors of autonomous car sensors known as lidar, according to people familiar with the matter, a key step towards the development of its first passenger vehicle.

The Cupertino, Calif.-Based tech giant is in active talks with a number of potential suppliers for those laser sensors that allow a car computer to see its surroundings, said the people, who asked not to. be identified because of the private. nature of discussions. The company has been working on a driverless vehicle project for several years and has developed most of the underlying software, processors and artificial intelligence algorithms necessary for such a sophisticated system itself.

As has been done with the iPhone, Apple is looking to outside suppliers to deliver critical hardware for a planned autonomous vehicle, people said. The ongoing talks are a sign that Apple has yet to pick a preferred supplier for lidar and is likely considering a range of options, including a heavily customized version of the sensors, as it heads to the development of a car design. This is an indication that a finished product is still several years away.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.

At least a half-dozen lidar companies have gone public via a reverse merger in recent months, raising hundreds of millions of dollars by grabbing investor appetites for a bet on future demand for high-end cars. technology. Laser sensor technology is used by many prominent players hoping to bring driverless vehicles to market, including the Waymo unit of parent company Google Alphabet Inc. and the Cruise division of General Motors Co.

Shares of lidar makers jumped on the Bloombergs report. Luminar Technologies Inc. rose 2.6% to $ 33.69, reversing earlier declines. Velodyne Lidar Inc. climbed 1% to $ 21.11. Apple shares rose 0.1% to $ 129.87.

Benjamin Lyon, a key Apple official who oversaw work on self-driving car hardware, left the company earlier this week for a space and satellite startup. It’s unclear what impact this might have on Apple’s progress on delivering a commercially viable car.

Apple has been testing its robotaxi technology on public roads in California since 2017. The first version of its test cars, modified Lexus SUVs, used a lidar stack made up of standard parts, although this has become a more bespoke effort recently. .

The company explained in a white paper published in 2019 how its sensory perception technology is supposed to work. The sensing component is able to determine where the vehicle is in the world and can identify and track surrounding objects, such as other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, Apple said at the time. This is accomplished using a combination of sensors, including lidar, radar, and cameras, and provides high-resolution 360-degree 3D coverage around the vehicle.

Reuters reported in 2019 that Apple was talking to manufacturers of lidar, but the autonomous vehicle project was restarted entirely afterwards. Apple is currently in discussions for the next-generation lidar which will be considered a leading indicator in four to five years, another indicator of the company’s timeline, people familiar with the discussions said.

Cars aren’t just a foray into lidar: the company launched an iPad Pro integrated with laser sensor technology last March, and extended the functionality to the iPhone 12 Pro line last fall. Technology improves low-light photography and augmented reality applications in consumer devices; using it to detect driving conditions and obstacles on the road is a more complicated feat.

The iPhone maker has a team of interior, body, drivetrain, and battery experts working to eventually launch a car. Staff within the company believe such a launch is at least five years away, Bloomberg News has reported.

The Apples autonomous car system has improved from a few years ago, but still lags the competition. Last year, Apple test cars drove over 18,800 miles in California, with a human driver expected to take control every 145 miles. This compares to Waymo, who traveled 628,839 miles and needed a human driver to take over every 30,000 miles or so, and Cruise, who traveled 770,000 miles in total with one disengagement every 28,520 miles.

Even though Apple is looking for suppliers, it is also in talks about potential manufacturing and other outsourcing partnership deals with several automakers. He has been discussing car manufacturing options with sister companies in the Hyundai Group, Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., but those talks ended several weeks ago. The two automakers recently said they were not in talks with Apple.

Bloomberg writer David Welch contributed to this report.



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