The rumors have been flying for several years that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is secretly working on autonomous driving technology. We even had the code name for the effort: Project Titan. However, the cat was officially out of the bag two weeks ago when AAPL received a permit to test an autonomous car in California.
Now, thanks to official training documents obtained by Business Insider, we know what Apple’s self-driving car technology looks like.
Why Apple Is Interested in Autonomous Car Technology
The closest Apple has ever come to releasing a product for automobiles is its CarPlay standard for integrating an iPhone into a car’s entertainment system. So why the apparent fascination with futuristic auto technology like an autonomous car?
The company has exploded in value and influence over the past decade because of the iPhone, but it’s looking for the next big hit. With the success Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) has had, and the publicity Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google has reaped from it’s self-driving car program, Apple clearly saw an opportunity. Over 88 million cars and light duty trucks were sold in 2016 and the revenue for automotive suppliers alone surpassed $670 billion in 2015.
Even carving out a small slice of this market would be huge for AAPL stock holders.
We started to hear about Apple’s Project Titan in 2015. At first, it was thought to be an electric car to compete with Tesla. Even Tesla’s Elon Musk seemed convinced Apple was preparing to directly take on his company. However, last fall there was an apparent shake-up in Project Titan. It was believed that Apple was pivoting from developing its own electric Apple car to instead developing an autonomous car software platform it could sell to automakers.
Two weeks ago, Apple officially tipped its hand. The company received a permit to drive three Lexus vehicles equipped with autonomous car technology on California roads.
Apple’s Self-Driving Car Technology Outed by Training Manual
Business Insider got the scoop on what AAPL is up to by obtaining a copy of a training manual and official government documentation filed by the company.
Called the Apple Automated System, AAPL’s self-driving car platform uses a combination of hardware and software. Apple says its system is “capable of sending electronic commands for steering, accelerating, and decelerating and may carry out portions of the dynamic driving task.”
The documentation describes the testing Apple drivers must undergo on a private course before being allowed to take the Lexus autonomous car onto public roads. It also includes photographs of the cockpit of the cars and even details the modifications made to the vehicles.
AAPL has equipped its test cars with a steering wheel and pedals made by Logitech (NASDAQ:LOGI) –the manufacturer of video game peripherals. The human “driver” can instantly take over control of the self-driving car by touching the brakes or grabbing the steering wheel.
Where Does the Apple Automated System Go From Here?
The end game for the Apple Automated System is clearly not to power an Apple car. At least not yet. Instead, AAPL will take aim at the traditional auto makers, hoping to convince them to license its system in their vehicles instead of spending the time and money to develop their own in-house technology.
Even though it’s now public knowledge, expect AAPL to remain tight-lipped on its autonomous car project. The Apple Lexus test vehicles will be spotted on California roads, but with so much at stake — Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) recently dropped $15 billion on Mobileye to develop its own autonomous vehicle platform — Apple is likely to keep its cards close until it’s ready for the big reveal.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.