Reviving an old ‘iCar’ rumor, Business Insider on Monday ran a story citing an Apple employee as saying that the Cupertino company has been in fact working on something in “vehicle development“ that will “give Tesla a run for its money.”
“Apple’s latest project is too exciting to pass up,” the source said. “I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.”
The following day, Bryan Chaffin, co-founder of The Mac Observer, wrote he was “certain” that Apple’s building a car after talking to sources who estimated there’s an “80 percent chance” of it working on an actual car rather than some car-related tech.
Could Apple be really building an automobile? What’s going on here?
Another circumstantial piece of evidence Chaffin provided after talking with another source is that “a lot of people at the top in Silicon Valley consider it a given that Apple is working on a car.”
“I should add that when I asked one of my sources flat out to put a percentage chance on Apple working on an actual car — rather than some kind of car-related technology — I was told, ’80 percent,’” he added.
Then there’s Seth Weintraub, the guy who runs 9to5 sites and Electrek.co, a blog dedicated to Tesla and electric cars. He shared some inside info during yesterday’s Happy Hour podcast.
“I’ve heard some crazy stuff,” he said.
While acknowledging we’re too early in the game to make educated guesses, Weintraub proceeded claiming “Apple’s hiring people in the auto and audio industry that aren’t doing CarPlay stuff, they’re doing actual car stuff.”
Sightings of nearly identical vehicles bearing California license plates were reported last September in Brooklyn, New York and later in Hawaii, Madison, Wisconsin and Panama City, Panama.
The discovery prompted Apple watchers to speculate the purpose of the mystery vehicle. Could these photos be our early indication of an autonomous Apple automobile?
Although Apple’s not been issued permits for testing autonomous vehicles, it could have partnered with a firm that already has the necessary clearances, speculated technology analyst Rob Enderle.
And if the placement of the camera and radio equipment on the vehicle is anything to go by, Apple’s Dodge Caravans are probably just some specialized vehicles to capture street-level data for Apple Maps, akin to Street View.
What we do know for a fact is that Apple leased the vans under its own name, as established by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Moreover, the iPhone maker is hiring robotics engineers to work in ”a unique development team.” Back in 2013, it hired a revered roboticist from Yale who was one of the leading engineers behind the Segway project.
According to a Wired report, Apple’s mystery van does have the equipment to be a self-driving vehicle. In all likelihood, these vehicles are cruising the streets in order to capture some kind of data, self-driving or not.
In that regard, capturing high-resolution street-level photography could help the company improve three-dimensional Flyover mode in Apple Maps, which is known to render distortions, like the one you see below, when one zooms in on tightly-packed city streets.
Meanwhile, die-hard fans continue to believe Apple is in fact testing its own self-driving car technology. For what it’s worth, Apple has thus far hired at least 50 Tesla people with expertise that is most suited to cars and focus on battery and materials technology.
But that’s hardly your smoking gun.
Commenting on the meme on his Daring Fireball blog, Apple pundit John Gruber said he knows nothing of any such project. “I know a lot of people at Apple, at all levels of the company, who love watches,” he hinted, adding “I also know many who love cars.”
It may be heretic to even exercise the notion that an iCar is on the horizon because conventional wisdom teaches us that Apple is a consumer electronics company.
But on the other hand, Apple board member Mickey Drexler said in 2012 that Steve Jobs did want to build a car and apparently had even met with German car-maker Volkswagen back in 2007 to discuss the project.
“Look at the car industry; it’s a tragedy in America. Who is designing the cars?” Drexler said. “Steve’s dream before he died was to design an iCar.” “And,” Drexler added with a coy smile, “it would’ve been probably 50 percent of the market. He never did design it.”
And we also learned from Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller’s testimony in the Apple vs. Samsung mega trial that the project wasn’t just a late-night brainstorming session, but actually something Apple brass tossed around in executive meetings.
People suggested all kinds of things Apple could do, Schiller recalled: “Make a camera, make a car, crazy stuff.”
You connect the dots…