back to article Apple's car is driving nowhere

Is Silicon Valley “disrupting” the car industry – or is the car “disrupting” Silicon Valley? It might be the latter; after Google’s car struggles comes further news of Apple’s ailing auto project. Apple has lost “hundreds” of staff from Project Titan, its car initiative, Bloomberg reports in a scathing update on the work. It’ …

  1. Alister

    So all the time, and above all, money that the various governments have been spending on preparing for, and debating the issues surrounding, autonomous vehicles, has been wasted, due to the inflated claims of Google et al.

    1. Lee D

      Not wasted as such, they may come about one day and the same info and laws will be in place and apply equally.

      But anyone with half-a-brain knows that self-driving cars are dangerous and unlikely to happen until the AI epoch arrives, which is currently a LONG way off. There's literally no such thing as AI outside of uni labs, and they are INCREDIBLY limited in scope (e.g. playing Go) rather than anything to do with interpreting the outside world or making decisions about incredibly complex real-world situations (like sitting at a traffic light).

      If you want a self-driving car, you need to move the humans out of the way. We did it already. It's called a train. The ones on the London Docklands Light Railway are, basically, autonomous. It's easy and we did it decades ago. They don't need to be "intelligent", which is extremely difficult and outside the scope of the ENTIRE WORLD'S current technology.

      And then you realise that it would be quicker, cheaper and safer to take cars off the road, make the roads electronic, and give everyone a personal electric train. Problem solved, and things won't run off the rails quite so often as a self-driving car trying to navigate a maze of BMW-morons and Audi-idiots.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Not wasted as such, they may come about one day and the same info and laws will be in place and apply equally."

        If you give permission before the technology is ready then you're apt to get technology that isn't ready unleashed on the public roads. Correct sequence should be develop first, then prove that what you've developed is fit for purpose and only then should permission to deploy be granted.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "We did it already. It's called a train."

        No, because unlike a train, a car can go between two arbitrary points without need of switches or other restricting mechanisms. As long as there's road between A and B, you can almost always reach it. That's why many people insist on a personal car: the ability to take it anywhere, anytime whenever the need arises. Unless you can do that, practically door-to-door, trains will never replace cars.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          @Charles 9,

          "No, because unlike a train, a car can go between two arbitrary points without need of switches or other restricting mechanisms. As long as there's road between A and B, you can almost always reach it."

          Hmmm, and there's me wondering what all that tarmac and concrete is for. Oh, you've pointed out that "two arbitrary points" need to be connected by a road for a car to work. Not so very different to a train then.

          Automated trains work because a railway is a very artificial and sterile environment. There's nothing in that environment that isn't controlled by the system. And where mother nature can intrude (e.g. a fox on the line) there's little prospect of passengers being hurt, or even delayed... In short, the only thing an automated train has to worry about is another automated train. That's a comparatively easy problem to deal with.

          And even the the train may well be driver-less, but that's a long way from saying that it isn't monitored by people. There's a control room. There's a lot of data and video feedback of train position. There's people watching that, or at least poised to glance at a set of screens should an alarm go off.

          In comparison a road is far from a car-only environment. Even in America there's things like foxes, moose, potholes, floods, snow, ice, fog, road works, fallen trees, fallen bridges, turnips, rocks and geckos which are all a severe threat to the occupants of a car. And I haven't even started on the other road users; kids, postmen, other drivers, cyclists, protesters, motorcyclists, policemen, estate agents, road menders, binmen, politicians, drunks, grannies, flashers; they have a right to not be run over by anything.

          Now, if you excluded all of those (and more) from being able to access the roads then maybe, just maybe, we could have a provably reliable self driving car that isn't just more train track. Though in effect it would be a train without the steel rails.

          "That's why many people insist on a personal car: the ability to take it anywhere, anytime whenever the need arises. Unless you can do that, practically door-to-door, trains will never replace cars.

          So you've never been stuck in a traffic jam? They're big queues of cars going nowhere, and they mean that your car cannot take you anywhere at all at the time you want no matter how urgent it is. Sometimes they last for days.

          1. oldcoder

            Unlike a train, a car CAN leave the road.

            It can also use dirt for a "road". Or gravel. It can also avoid potholes if the driver deems it necessary.

            A train cannot.

          2. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

            Turnips?

            But in a similar vein, do you remember that one of these cars on trial encountered a woman on a motability scooter driving round and round in the middle of the road waving her stick about - because she was trying to round up her escaped geese.

          3. tiggity Silver badge

            Geckos?

            What sort of gecko is "a severe threat to the occupants of a car."? Are they carrying grenade launchers?

            1. bazza Silver badge

              Re: Geckos?

              @tiggity,

              "What sort of gecko is "a severe threat to the occupants of a car."? Are they carrying grenade launchers?"

              Round these parts they do. They're deadly accurate, and those amazing grippy feet mean you have to keep yours eyes peeled in case they're firing from the roof of a tunnel or something. Drive carefully out there...

      3. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "But anyone with half-a-brain knows that self-driving cars are dangerous and unlikely to happen until the AI epoch arrives, which is currently a LONG way off."

        What self-driving car makers are learning is that what we use to help us drive pretty much can't be taught. It's based mostly on instinct: on stuff newborns can accomplish before being old enough to really be taught anything (this has been shown in labs: infants can recognize human faces and anomalies without any grasp of language or higher thinking--this shows it's instinctive). Which raises an interesting question: how can we teach a car something we don't even know how we came about knowing it? Indeed, how can we even know what we know if we can't recognize it ourselves?

      4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        If you want a self-driving car, you need to move the humans out of the way.

        This may be easier than you imagine. One of the consequences of all the telemetry that Google is collecting will be that the insurance industry will be able to come up with quotes for autonomous cars. I suspect this will start with HGVs and work its way down to cars but lower insurance premiums for computers and correspondingly higher ones for the accident prone humans could make a big difference.

        The more miles the cars travel the more data they collect. Every problem they encounter can almost certainly be recreated at a test track until they get it solved. Indeed, I wonder how long it will be before the first autonomous cars are zooming around in the snow and ice on that test track in Finland? Can computers go snow or polder blind?

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      It will be disappointing. I was really hoping to have the idiot humans taken out of the road safety equation. But if the idiot humans are still at the top pulling some of the strings then it's not going to work out.

      1. macjules Silver badge
        Facepalm

        You would never be able to factor out random human stupidity from the equation unless and until you ban all non AI-controlled vehicles. Even then you will have an issue with said idiots overriding the AI safety controls, such as "Hey look! I've jailbroken my iCar, so I can drive it when I'm pissed.". Thus, in that respect you will need a pretty damn clever AI system to not only pre-empt random human stupidity, but also to pre-empt human natural instinct to do pretty much the opposite of what the AI's learning algorithm has been programmed to expect.

        1. AndrewDu

          " I've jailbroken my iCar, so I can drive it when I'm pissed"

          I would have thought that if a car were autonomous, "driving" it while pissed would be pretty much a basic requirement. Otherwise what's the point.

          1. macjules Silver badge

            I was thinking along the lines of the system that Volvo used to have, the Combined breathalyzer lock and seat belt lock, where you had to blow into a breathalyser in order to use the car.

    3. Ian Michael Gumby
      Boffin

      @Alister ...

      Waste of time? No. However a bit premature.

      The premise of the article is also misleading. Just because Apple enters a niche and it fails to generate profits or viable products in the short term doesn't mean its a wasted effort.

      Think of why Google is getting in to this space in the first place...

      While the tech companies are still in R&D, think of the ethical and legal challenges on the back side.

      Suppose you buy a google self driving car... you own the car so you should have an expectation of privacy. But what happens if Google, in the name of improving the user experience, tracks your trips and sees that you make a lot of late night calls to a couple of different addresses. Then you start to see a lot of ads for Trojan Condoms as well as mail flyers (old school targeted adverts)

      Is that a legal use of invading your privacy? After all you purchased the vehicle.

      And then there's other questions... what happens if it is known that they are tracking your trips. Does that mean your wife's attorneys could subpoena your trip data?

      (I guess you could replace Google Car w Uber service. )

      My point is that it would be nice to have the law in sync with the devices rather than years behind trying to figure our your rights...

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: @Alister ...

        But what happens if Google, in the name of improving the user experience, tracks your trips and sees that you make a lot of late night calls to a couple of different addresses.

        Phone monitoring aside, this data is already being collected by newer cars following one of the EU directives. The car companies see it as their data.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: @Alister ...

        "Think of why Google is getting in to this space in the first place..."

        Google (the original company) was always working towards AI.

        Alphabet (what happened when Google ended up buying out a few of the less ethical marketing companies) is soley focussed on marketing and money. It sees AI as a sideshow.

        Doubleclick was a poison pill that killed innovation.

    4. BillG
      Happy

      The effort to advance technology is never wasted.

      So all the time, and above all, money that the various governments have been spending on preparing for, and debating the issues surrounding, autonomous vehicles, has been wasted

      Much like how the U.S. space program of the 1960's led to advances in medicine and technology, I'm sure that Google's autonomous car program made discoveries in image and pattern recognition that will be used in other projects. The effort to advance technology is never wasted.

  2. Your alien overlord - fear me

    On Google's car - with A-pillars that thick, you're going to need help seeing out in front, especially coming up to junctions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      I'm not sure if serious...

      or joke.

      It is [hopefully] autonomous.

    2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      The article makes the point that Google's approach is to have an autonomous car - in which case humans don't need good all-round visibility because the car will be taking care of what's happening at junctions.

      Google would probably prefer no windows at all, just a bunch of screens which give a view of the outside overlaid with ads. They could even tweak the routing algorithm to go the long way round to get more ads in.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      On Google's car - with A-pillars that thick, you're going to need help seeing out in front, especially coming up to junctions.

      That's the problem with copying the design inspiration so closely.

  3. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Frankly...

    Good. People need to drive their own cars and take responsibility for them. Keep this development up and we'll have people doing 65 MPH down a superhighway with their feet on the dash watching Netflix plowing into a handicapped short bus at speed.

    Drivers aids should never drive the car. Anyone who needs blind spot assistance or auto-backup needs to have their license taken away until they can learn to adjust their mirrors properly themselves.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Frankly...

      Good luck with that. Most idiots....err.. drivers.. can't find the turn signal lever and if they found it, they have no idea what it's for.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Frankly...

        > Anyone who needs blind spot assistance or auto-backup needs to have their license taken away until they can learn to adjust their mirrors properly themselves.

        And how the hell do you [the authorities] distinguish between the people who check their blind spot 99.9% and those who are perfect and check 100.000% of the time?

        As always, the issue is the implementation. Volvo are in the camp that believes that semi-autonomous carts are dangerous, because in the case of events that confuse the car it will be up to a human to suddenly take over, a human that is either attentive and bored, or else distracted.

        1. R 11

          Re: Frankly...

          Volvo apparently think that "autonomous technology will allow you to let your Volvo do the driving, giving you back control over your time. It will be a completely new, more convenient way to travel and we are already on the road to making it a reality."

          http://www.volvocars.com/intl/about/our-innovation-brands/intellisafe/intellisafe-autopilot

  4. chivo243 Silver badge

    Mostly vapourware?

    Would seem so... I think Apple realized the hardware side of designing->implementing a vehicle right isn't the same as designing a phone or computer.

  5. Dwarf Silver badge

    There's a reason that Ford don't make mobile phones, toothbrushes or Jeans.

    Its called specialism and its based on the principle that you can't know everything about the world from one organisation (not even Acme !). There is just too much knowledge, technology, experience and expertise to be any good at any particular topic and therefore trusted by consumers.

    Perhaps Google would be good to stick at what they do best, which come to think about it was a search engine and I'm struggling to think of other examples ...

    In return, I'll not go to Ford to search the Internet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And you'll go to Kodak to buy a camera, 'cos Sony are only good at making transistor radios. Perhaps you'll watch something on your Sony Triniton television, because LG only make fridges?

      You cite 'specialisation', but don't specify whether you're talking knowledge of manufacture or market awareness. Or maybe some other core competencies. How does the power (and risk) that comes with vertical integration fit with your view of specialisation.

      Half the time car company's core expertise seems to be negotiating tax breaks from elected governments before investing in plant that employs thousands of people. Are they the only companies that do so?

      Consumer trust? A fair few folk are driving cars from brands I hadn't heard of ten years ago, cars sold with a 5 year guarantee. Car companies and brands are often owned by each other, manufacturing is sold or replaced wholesale as appropriate, component suppliers have to be considered.

      Individual people specialise because we have limited life spans. Corporations aren't limited in the same way. They can buy - or rent - expertise and experience.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      IBM started off making typewriters, HP oscilloscopes and Nokia making wellies… And GE has at some time made pretty much everything.

      Apple used to make personal computers, now it makes fashion accessories. No, the big difference and risk for Apple would be switching from an asset-light to an asset-intensive model.

  6. ratfox

    When it comes to the key factors that car buyers look for - reliability, performance and comfort

    Citation needed, especially for performance. Despite what car advertising look like, most people don't give a shit about driving faster than 130 km/h, which is anyway illegal when not in Germany.

    1. Kernel

      ' Despite what car advertising look like, most people don't give a shit about driving faster than 130 km/h"

      Despite most people not giving a shit about driving faster than 130km/h (citation needed, btw), there's got to be some reason why I see Ford and Holden V8s mixed in with the 550cc Daihatsus when driving to work - and I can assure you that my current 3.5litre V6 petrol gives a nicer driving experience than the previous 2.4 diesel.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        there's got to be some reason why I see Ford and Holden V8s mixed in with the 550cc Daihatsus when driving to work

        It was known as "big car, small dick" when I was growing up…

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      But performance can also mean acceleration, and being able to get up to speed in a reasonable amount of time (or even quicker in an emergency) would be a good selling point for just about ANY car buyer.

    3. Kristian Walsh

      Performance isn't just speed, it's also agility, roadholding, and response to driver inputs. Getting these right takes serious mechanical engineering, and that's a very different mindset from the silicon valley"if it looks like it's working, then it IS working" attitude.

      Incidentally, the highest signposted speed limit in the United States is already over 130 km/h. I bet you can guess which state without looking it up first...

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    I'm still really impressed

    The Google stuff demonstrates that there are no shortcuts and that they're prepared to spend money clocking up, filming and measuring those kilometres. I don't care if they are making "clown" cars: the detection and analysis stuff on the street is the hard part. Worry about the chassis and bodywork later. I'm also convinced that removing people from the driving is exactly the right thing to do. The idea that a possibly sober human should occasionally intervene fills me, as a very occasional driver, with the collywobbles.

    That Apple started such a vanity project is another indication that, since Steve Jobs died, the company has stopped having good new ideas.

    1. Kernel

      Re: I'm still really impressed

      "The idea that a possibly sober human should occasionally intervene fills me, as a very occasional driver, with the collywobbles."

      What fills me with the collywobbles is that I might be sharing the road with people who only drive very occasionally and are possibly neither confident in what they're doing nor happy to be doing it.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: I'm still really impressed

        What fills me with the collywobbles is that I might be sharing the road with people who only drive very occasionally and are possibly neither confident in what they're doing nor happy to be doing it.

        As opposed to the over-confident boy racers? You might care to look at some of the research as to quite how badly suited people are to driving in traffic.

      2. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: I'm still really impressed

        I'm never happy when driving.

        .. I would rather that time could be spent doing more enjoyable things (for me, obv spome people enjoy driving, I don't).

        Hence a lot of my driving is to a train station, so I can take a form of transport where I can relax and read a magazine, newspaper etc.

        Not being happy driving does not however mean that I am not focusing on road, hazards etc. when driving:It just means I'm doing it without a big grin on my face.

  8. CloudMonster

    watch your back Tesla...

    Surely Apple will eventually tire (boom boom) of the hassle involved with producing hardware and slurp up Tesla and shoehorn in CarOS?

  9. Mage Silver badge

    Trains, planes and ships

    Buses, trucks and cars should be last on the list after Trams.

    It's not just because of Unions that trains have drivers, and surely that doesn't even need so called "AI" or GPS (apparently GPS isn't good enough for autonomous cars, not just accuracy, but signal loss). So let's do trains first. Signals can tell the train where it is. It doesn't need to steer. Only follow signals and stop if there is something unexpected on the track, which should be very much easier than cars avoiding unexpected things on roads (bins blowing in wind, missing manhole covers, never mind trucks, children or cyclists.)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Trains, planes and ships

      So what happens if there's a loose car on the tracks? Or a large tree? Or a cow (remember why old trains had "cow catchers")? Or there's a bridge kink ahead (REAL train disaster occurred because a rail bridge was dislodged by a ship but only kinked the rail rather than broke it, keeping the electrical connection live so the train had no clue what was ahead).

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Trains, planes and ships

        "So what happens if there's a loose car on the tracks? Or a large tree? Or a cow (remember why old trains had "cow catchers")?"

        Indeed. It's not so simple. So why are people working on much harder car issue than on trains? Solve one problem at a time. Autonomous car needs many different issues solved.

      2. Tim Seventh
        WTF?

        Re: Trains, planes and ships

        "So what happens if there's a loose car on the tracks? Or a large tree? Or a cow (remember why old trains had "cow catchers")?"

        huh?

        When that happen, the autonomous Train detects the object using sensors and pulls the break? This is a train we're talking about, not a plane, or a boat, or a car. It's on a railroad. There really isn't that much decision making for train other than accelerate or decelerate...

        In addition, this is not new. Autonomous Train has been used in different countries for a while from subways to bullet trains. Blockage on these type of vehicles are detected ahead of the collusion using means not from the human pilot. Also, do not expect any bullet trains to stop in time when there's a cow on the rail. even humans can't stop from 200-300 mph to 0 with reaction time.

        1. theModge

          Re: Trains, planes and ships

          Indeed. A strong argument I have heard against human drivers for HS2 is there is nothing they could do if they saw an obstacle. By the time you see a cow at 300 kpm on rails (not very grippy), with a train (heavy) full of people (also heavy), that cow has been demoted to beef. All over the windscreen. Which is why it's better not to have anyone there to traumatise.

          Metro's are easy to make driverless, high speed lines are easy to make driverless. Mainline stuff (in the UK at least) is slightly harder because of the number of different people allowed to play on there - freight companies are allergic to spending money for example.

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Trains, planes and ships

          That's assuming the train has the capability to stop, but the thing about trains (especially freight trains) is that they're very, VERY HEAVY. And all that weight translates to A LOT of inertia. So the train may be able to see an object coming up ahead, but it may well lack the sheer physical strength to come to a stop before impact, and while it can be just problematic when a train rams a cow or a transfer truck, it can get pretty tragic if the object is large enough to cause a derailment or worse shouldn't be contacted at all (like a propane truck stuck at a crossing--when a train rammed it, it literally exploded). And some scenarios you pretty much CAN'T plan for due to their sheer spontaneity (like an earthquake).

          Basically, the problem set of trains doesn't overlap well with the problem set of cars.

  10. hypernovasoftware

    Sorry but I would never buy or use one of these types of vehicles.

    I'll stick with my BMW and someday, hopefully, a Maserati.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well being overpaid and over here I enjoy my Tesla actually.

  11. Sureo

    Apple engineering

    They quit because the car needs new batteries and they cannot be replaced.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Apple engineering

      "They quit because the car needs new batteries and they cannot be replaced."

      Well that, plus the engine's heat kept melting the glue holding the bonnet on.

    2. noboard

      Re: Apple engineering

      Don't forget the body is made from one piece of material, with no doors or windows as they're so 20th century.

  12. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    So... I'll be riding in a driverless car when I go to my paperless office...

  13. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    "A.I is hard."

    A.I. is hard...

    ...Especially in the real world.

  14. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Meh

    Yes, yes, we get it . . .

    Blah, blah, teh Google is teh evil and Sillycon Valley sucks, etc.

    The self-driving car will clearly never work. Why that would be as silly as taking a bunch of mostly-hairless apes who evolved to live in trees and caves and training them to operate advanced machinery!

  15. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Google’s not-at-all-sinister self-driving clown car

    I wonder why they placed the big on/off switch on the outside at the front?

  16. Tom Paine
    Coat

    Ob Micro Men

    "Christ, Tim -- not the bloody car!"

  17. nilfs2

    Cagers need to learn how to drive properly...

    ...before they attempt to teach a computer how to do so, not likely to happen.

    Driverless public transportation, bicycles and mopeds should be the only available means of transportation on main cities, cars and trucks should be left outside the city and country roads, driving a car inside a main city is stupid, it doesn't benefit it's owner nor the people around them, it only benefits the car manufacturers and oil companies; it is a waste of space and resources since most people are driving alone a car capable of 5+ passengers.

  18. Jim84

    A solution to the wrong problem - It's the roads stupid

    Whether or not a car is electric or driverless, it still has to use wide heavy roads, which are super expenisve to put in the air (a 3D network) so we are stuck with a 2D network and congestion.

    Ironically "self driving cars" may have just created the technology that begins to end the car as an object of major importance in most city dwellers lives. The self driving tech cannot deal with such random stuff as pedestrians, kids, or other human drivers, but when the car has its own right of way those problems disappear.

    What self driving tech will enable is PRT (personal rapid transit) or self driving pods on an elevated micro monorail. These are light and so we can put them in the air ending congestion in cities, and obviating the need for car ownership for city dwellers.

    http://openprtspecs.blogspot.com.au/2008/06/its-roads-stupid.html

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A solution to the wrong problem - It's the roads stupid

      The problem with any kind of restricted-rail system is that it's much more difficult to handle diversions. You simply cannot duplicate a city grid with a rail network, especially door-to-door (which matters to people who frequently travel in the rain and/or with baggage/groceries/lots of shopping).

  19. Gis Bun

    What a waste of maybe hundreds of millions. Sounds like something Google would do.

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