During the holiday season, news outlets reported that Apple is working on adding electric self-driving cars to its repertoire of products and services. Apple is using the codename “Project Titan” for its electric vehicle that is expected to have fully autonomous capabilities. Like a present with a big red bow on it, the secret surrounding Project Titan was itching to be unwrapped. Apple has yet to disclose the news itself; however, sources familiar with the project revealed details of the new vehicle that could be entering the market as early as 2024.
At this time, there are no vehicles available for purchase in the U.S. that are equipped with Automated Driving Systems (ADS). ADS describes level 3-5 motor vehicles with driving automation systems that perform part or all of the dynamic driving task (DDT) on a sustained basis. At levels 3-5 of automation, a person is not considered to be driving the vehicle when the automated driving features are engaged. If Apple releases a fully-autonomous vehicle, it has the potential to be the first available for purchase in U.S.
Sources reported that Apple is setting itself apart from competitors by using an innovative monocell battery design. This type of layout bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating the need for pouches and modules to hold battery materials. There are also talks of Apple using a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, which is less prone to overheating than other types of batteries. In more recent news, it was reported that Apple is actively searching for a supplier for lidar sensors for its vehicle. By acting as the eyes that allow a car’s computer to see its surroundings, lidar sensors play a key role in the autonomous part of the Apple Car. The majority of autonomous vehicles use lidar sensors; however, Apple is specifically seeking lidar sensors that will still be considered cutting-edge years from now.
While most of Project Titan remains secret, patent applications filed by Apple provides additional insight as to what features the car may include. Apple’s patents describe several technological advancements including an “intelligent” window-tinting system that responds to external weather conditions, a new way to send alerts using a system for enhancing situational awareness, and an augmented virtual display using a virtual reality system to help reduce motion sickness in passengers.
Fully autonomous vehicles are getting closer to being road ready, but the self-driving technology and the laws surrounding the use of these vehicles are in need of further development. The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) has decided to pay closer attention to automation and preparing for the future of transportation. The U.S. DOT’s fundamental focus is to create the safest, most efficient and modern transportation system in the world. Recognizing that automated vehicles align with their focus, on January 11, 2021, the U.S. DOT released the Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan (“Comprehensive Plan”) to understand and respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by ADS. To achieve the U.S. DOT’s vision for ADS, the Comprehensive Plan outlines three goals: promote collaboration and transparency, modernize the regulatory environment, and prepare the transportation system for the safe integration of automated vehicles.
Creating a regulatory scheme to integrate automated vehicles alongside regular vehicles is no small task. Currently, there are no national standards for automated vehicles. However, states are free to enact their own legislation regarding the use of such vehicles within their borders, and 29 states and D.C. have done so. The Comprehensive Plan states:
“The U.S. Government will modernize or eliminate outdated regulations that unnecessarily impede the development of AVs—or that do not address critical safety, mobility, and accessibility needs—to encourage a consistent regulatory and operational environment. In doing so, it will promote regulatory consistency among State, local, tribal and territorial, and international laws and regulations so that AVs can operate seamlessly nationwide and internationally. “Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan
While the law often lags behind technological innovation, it should not “unnecessarily impede” it, as stated above. The Comprehensive Plan is a step in the right direction for Apple, the several other companies developing automated vehicles, and for the public soon to be driving, or riding, in them.