Apple may be secretly developing autonomous vehicles

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By Larry Banks

Apple has been up to something lately. Besides reports of mysterious vans leased to Apple that have been spotted driving around San Francisco and Hawaii (as well as many other places), several employees have reported that Apple is working on a self-driving car, or at least something to give Tesla a run for its money.

Apple iCar…or something far more mundane?

A report in Business Insider that proposed how the vans may be a self-driving cars was published recently (though it was later speculated in Apple fan sites that it’s more likely to be for improving the accuracy of Apple Maps), after which the publication received an unsolicited email from an Apple employee about vehicle development.

The unnamed person also said that Tesla employees were being courted by Apple with huge bonuses up to $250,000. “Apple’s latest project is too exciting to pass up,” the person said. “I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money.”

So far, Apple has 50 employees or so who used to work at Tesla, according to LinkedIn. Some of those people were engineers, but most of them hired from Tesla specialised in mechanics, manufacturing and robotics. The Cupertino-based company may in fact be working on its own vehicle, but it seems unlikely given that it’s outside their core expertise.

Tesla Roadster
One of Tesla’s popular roadster models.

More likely is the possibility that Apple is working on experiences related to the iPhone and CarPlay, that will improve upon what Tesla offers, though we fail to see how that sounds “too good to pass up”, unless they’re talking purely of the money. Apple’s CarPlay allows you to control your car’s entertainment systems via a connected iPhone, which was due in 2014 but is only now just coming to market.

It could be that the Apple employee means unlocking your car via an iPhone without needing a key, or perhaps much tighter integration with navigation, audio, and so on. Regardless of whether Apple really is working on autonomous vehicles, they are no doubt competing with Tesla for talent, which prompted Tesla’s Elon Musk to say they are winning the battle in poaching each others’ employees. As of now, Tesla has hired more than 150 Apple employees – also with huge bonuses and salary increases.

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