The Apple Car — under the development codename Project Titan — has been one of the great automotive industry teases for years. The project's viability allegedly hinges on autonomous driving, which has taken far longer than many anticipated to emerge. But Patently Apple just uncovered a recently updated patent application that suggests the Apple project is moving closer to fruition — and provides new insight about how it might get you from A to B without a steering wheel or pedals.
The details of the patent suggest a system that would allow the operator to give the car more precise guidance about where to stop. They could use a touchscreen to indicate a direction, trace a path or operate the vehicle via a virtual joystick. More interesting, however, is that the system would also accommodate Siri-style voice commands and gesture commands.
Such a system wouldn't be required for initial autonomous driving in passenger cars. But it would be imperative for a transition to full Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy with vehicles that would look to do away with the steering wheel altogether.
From a tech perspective, a voice command system where you could tell a car where to go with the same ease you direct a cab driver would be revolutionary. However, taking a step back, one should also note that humans have been able to direct a fellow human driver with vocal and gesture commands for millennia. Presumably, voice and gesture recognition would be more advanced than the systems currently in vehicles.
When will the Apple Car arrive? Well, we still don't know. Apple isn't a car manufacturer, which presents difficulties. There were reports Apple was close to a deal with Kia to manufacture its vehicles. However, the latest rumors have Apple taking more of an iPhone route with third-party manufacturers to produce a car. And Apple reportedly poaching a big-time Ford exec suggests the effort is serious.
There's also the not-so-small matter that self-driving cars do not exist yet. Systems like Tesla Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise are still considered Level 2. Manufacturers are just beginning to roll out minimal Level 3 features, which don't require constant driver attention. And if Apple does figure out autonomous driving tech, it may make more sense to take a not very Apple route and sub-license the tech to various other companies rather than control the hardware with an expensive, niche private automobile.