Apple Seeking LiDAR Sensors As 'Project Titan' Self-Driving Car Program Advances

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When I was younger—a lot younger—it seemed we were headed towards a future where flying cars would be the norm, a thought no doubt influenced by television (The Jetsons comes immediately to mind). That probably won't come to pass in my lifetime, though the widespread use of autonomous vehicles might. Several companies are invested in self-driving cars, including Apple, which not surprisingly is hoping to build the necessary technology in-house if a supplier doesn't step to the plate with an attractive offer.

We've seen this play out with Apple in the mobile phone space, with the company designing its own custom Bionic processors for its iPhone family. Granted, those chips are based on ARM hardware, but unlike most of the competition, Apple is not sourcing SoCs from Qualcomm or MediaTek. Apple is also said to be developing 5G modems in-house.

This same philosophy is guiding Apple's effort into Project Titan, it's not-so-secretive autonomous vehicle division. Citing people who are supposedly familiar with Apple's plans, Reuters reports that Apple has had been in discussions with at least four companies to supply next-generation LiDAR sensors, while also working on its own ones.

Apple's overarching goal at the moment is to reduce costs. LiDAR systems are costly—they can cost six figures, according to the report, and are prone to failure when produced on a mass scale.

For Apple, there is an opportunity there to be both self-reliant in the LiDAR space, and come up with a "revolutionary design" that is less bulky and more reliable, as is the goal. That said, Apple would still outsource LiDAR sensor production, if a company steps to the plate with an attractive proposition.

LiDAR systems are key to how autonomous vehicles work. They scan the roadway in 360 degrees by continually firing laser lights, to measure distance and map out the landscape. Whether related or not, Apple was recently found to be dead last in autonomous car disengagements, according to data provided to California's DMV.

A “disengagement” is when an autonomous vehicle gives control back to the driver or when a driver interferes. In a perfect situation, a self-driving car would stay "engaged" for the duration of the drive, barring an emergency. Apple reported 871.65 disengagements per 1000 miles, which breaks to one disengagement every 1.1 miles. In contrast, Google’s Waymo fleet performed better, with a total of 114 disengagements, or 0.09 disengagements per 1000 miles.

One thing that is still not clear is whether eventually intends to offer its own fleet of self-driving cars, or is trying to develop the technology to license out to others.
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