All posts in “Self Driving Cars”

Waymo tops new self-driving report while Apple brings up the rear

Waymo beating out the competition in California.
Waymo beating out the competition in California.

Image: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Apple’s self-driving car project isn’t doing so well. Last month more than 200 employees from the team were sent to other machine learning divisions. Then in a report this week, Apple came in dead last out of 62 companies permitted to test drive autonomous vehicles in California. 

The California DMV put out its annual disengagement reports Tuesday that show how often self-driving cars have to return to manual, human-controlled driving. It’s measured in disengagements per 1,000 miles or miles per disengagement.

Waymo, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet, had the best rates. Apple, the worst.

Waymo came out on top with only .09 disengagements every 1,000 miles. Put another way, its self-driving cars were able to go for 11,017 miles until a human interfered. That’s double the mileage of the second-best company, General Motor’s Cruise, at 5,205 miles per disengagement. 

In a blog post Wednesday, Waymo touted its lower rate from last year and nearly 100 percent increase in number of miles traveled until disengagement (last year it was 5,595 miles).

“Disengagements in these cases are actually a good thing because they are the equivalent to discovering and solving an issue with our car’s capability,” the team wrote about the latest numbers.

How far Waymo can go before a human driver takes over.

Image: Waymo

Then there’s Apple. Its disengagement rate is 871 per 1,000 miles. That means every 1.1 miles it had to disengage from self-driving mode. The DMV has 18 pages listing all the takeovers. 

In a December letter to the DMV, Jaime Waydo, senior director of autonomous systems engineering at Apple, wrote, “Apple’s approach to disengagements is conservative, because our system is not yet designed to operate in all conditions and situations.”

Using somewhat funky calculations, Apple said since July, its 72 permitted vehicles have driven 56,135 miles. Between April 2017 and June 2018 it only reached 24,604 miles. Apple is testing a fleet of modified Lexus RX 450h vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For Cruise, this year was a huge improvement over last year, even if its numbers lagged behind the leader, Waymo. In 2018, Cruise drove more than 447,600 autonomous miles in California, compared to 129,764 in 2017. (This year, Waymo clocked in 1.2 million miles in the state.)

Cruise and Waymo have the most cars allowed to drive in autonomous mode: 175 and 126, respectively, based on DMV data. 

So far, a month and a half into the year, only four collision reports have come in — all but one happened while the cars were in manual mode. One from Waymo, two from Cruise, and one from Aurora. Apple isn’t driving as much as Cruise and Waymo, but its cars crashed twice last year. 

The dismal Apple numbers show the tech company isn’t really feeling self-driving cars like it once was — it’s barely testing its vehicles and it laid off workers. Looks like the dream of a self-driving Apple Car has a ways to go.

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C2A raises $6.5M for its in-car cybersecurity platform

Cars are now essentially computers on wheels — and like every computer, they are susceptible to attacks. It’s no surprise then that there’s a growing number of startups that are working to protect a car’s internal systems from these hacks, especially given that the market for automotive cybersecurity could be worth over $900 billion by 2026.

One of these companies is Israel’s C2A Security, which offers an end-to-end security platform for vehicles, which today announced that it has raised a $6.5 million Series A funding round.

The round was led by Maniv Mobility, which previously invested in companies like Hailo, drive.ai and Turo, and ICV, which has invested in companies like Freightos and Vayyar. OurCrowd’s Labs/02 also participated in this round.

Like most companies at the Series A stage, C2A plans to use the new funding to grow its team, especially on the R&D side, and help support its customer base. Sadly, C2A does not currently talk about who its customers are.

The promise of C2A is that it offers a full suite of solutions to detect and mitigate attacks. The team behind the company has an impressive security pedigree, with the company’s CMO Nat Meron being an alumn of Israel’s Unit 8200 intelligence unit, for example. C2A founder and CEO Michael Dick previously co-founded NDS, a content security solution, which Cisco acquired for around $5 billion in 2012 (and then recently sold on to Permira, also for $5 billion).

“We are extremely proud to receive the support of such outstanding investors, who will bring tremendous value to the company,” said Dick. “Maniv’s expertise in autotech and strong network across the industry coupled with ICV’s rich experience in cybersecurity brings the perfect combination of skills to the table.”

China will stop at nothing to steal information from Apple’s secret self-driving car project

Few people outside of Apple really know what the end goal of its top secret “Project Titan” car development project is. 

Is Apple building a Tesla killer? Just further developing CarPlay? Experimenting with autonomous driving technologies and sensors? One thing we do know: Chinese auto companies really want to steal any information from Project Titan.

According to NBC News Bay Area, the FBI arrested a Chinese national accused of stealing Project Titan trade secrets. Jizhong Chen was arrested prior to flying to China after another Apple employee caught him photographing Apple-classified information.

A search through Chen’s computer by Apple’s Global Security team revealed “thousands of files containing Apple’s intellectual property, including manuals, schematics, and diagrams.”

Chen reportedly applied for a job at a Chinese autonomous vehicle company that could’ve benefit from the intellectual property he stole. Chen is also accused of stealing an “assembly drawing of an Apple-designed wiring harness for an autonomous vehicle.” 

A recent Apple patent describes what’s essentially a redesigned seatbelt that uses gestures to control vehicle input such as CarPlay functionality. 

Here’s the abstract from the patent describing the design:

An augmented safety restraint system includes a first restraint operable to secure a first passenger. The first restraint has an exposed surface facing away from a body of the first passenger. A gesture-sensing device is disposed on the exposed surface of the first restraint and is operable to receive an input from the first passenger.

Chen isn’t the first Chinese national to attempt stealing secret information from Project Titan. Back in July, ex-Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang also tried to steal Titan intellectual property to reportedly hand over to China’s Xiaopeng Motors. Similar to Chen, Zhang was accused of downloading “engineering schematics and technical reports.”

Project Titan was first made unofficially public in 2014. But the autonomous vehicle development project has been restructured multiple times in the last few years.

Most recently, Apple laid off 200 employees from Project Titan to refocus development efforts on “several key areas” according to an Apple spokesperson. Still, whatever Apple’s working on within Titan is far from dead.

In 2016, Apple brought former SVP of Technologies, Bob Mansfield, back from retirement to lead Project Titan. Prior to leaving Apple, Mansfield had a hand in developing key iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch devices.

Then, in August 2018, Apple re-recruited its own former employee, Doug Field, who left to become Tesla’s vice president of engineering, in efforts to get Titan back on track.

It’s unclear when the public will see any of the fruits of Project Titan. Though, the project seems to make headlines every few months or so, it’s entirely possible nothing will come of the self-driving development. Like many companies, Apple does research and development on a wide range of technologies. Development doesn’t necessarily mean a product is on its way. It’s all speculation until an Apple executive gets up on a stage and makes an announcement.

Nonetheless, noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo wrote back in August he believes Apple could launch its own self-driving car around 2023. Much could have changed since then and much could still change by then (it’s only 2019) so take the information with a grain of salt, even if Kuo is eerily accurate with his iPhone predictions.

Chen’s arrest is unlikely to be the last. As China moves to aggressively to build homegrown electric vehicles, it’s more likely it’ll find ways to engage in stealing trade secrets from not just Apple, but other companies such as Tesla, which already has a lead in vehicle electrification.

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Dream of Apple Car may be dead as company dismisses 200 employees

Project Titan is getting smaller.
Project Titan is getting smaller.

Image: Alexander Pohl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you’re still dreaming of owning a shiny, white Apple Car one day, we’ve got some bad news for you: Apple just dismissed 200 employees from its autonomous vehicle group, internally dubbed Project Titan, CNBC reported Thursday.

An Apple spokesperson confirmed the news to CNBC, calling it a re-focus, with “some groups being moved to projects in other parts of the company.”

The spokesperson pointed out that the company still has a team working on autonomous systems, but its work is now focused on “several key areas.”

Layoffs, internal strife and pivots appeared to plague the project since the public first learned of it in 2014. The dream of Apple actually building a car you’ll be able to buy was severely diminished after the New York Times reported, back in 2017, that the company had refocused to build an autonomous shuttle for its employees. 

Still, the rumors never died. Apple enlisted its own ex-employee and Tesla engineering VP, Doug Field in August 2018 to lead the project, and hired ex-Tesla designer Andrew Kim in December 2018. Furthermore, Tim Cook himself said that machine learning and autonomous cars are incredibly important for the company’s future. 

This latest round of layoffs does not instill hope that the company is still serious about building an actual car, and poses questions about Apple’s ambitions regarding autonomous vehicles in general. 

Then again, you never know what Apple is cooking behind closed doors. 

“We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems,” Apple told CNBC. 

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Waymo chooses snowy location for its factory devoted to self-driving cars

Waymo put its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan on display at CES 2019.
Waymo put its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan on display at CES 2019.

Image: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

“Dashing through the snow in a Level 4 self-driving car…”

That’s what Google autonomous car spinoff Waymo is humming today (probably) after announcing plans for a self-driving car factory in southeast Michigan. 

The company said it’s building the “world’s first factory 100%-dedicated to the mass production” of Level 4 autonomous vehicles, which technically don’t require a driver in the front seat. (So far, Waymo has decided to keep a safety operator up front anyway.)

The first order of business is finding a facility in Michigan and then hiring engineers, operations staff, and fleet coordinators to build and eventually test the self-driving cars. Waymo has a Michigan presence already with a development center in Novi that opened in 2016. The space served as a testing spot for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which was used in a self-driving taxi service launched last year in the Phoenix area. 

The minivans have also experienced snowy conditions before, but are mainly driven in warmer, dry climates like the San Francisco Bay Area and Arizona. In 2017, Waymo ventured out to the public roads in Michigan with the intention of testing its autonomous minivans in snow and ice.

But how well it can handle inclement weather has been questioned in recent months. Near Phoenix, a Waymo One rider told the Verge the car was put into manual mode because it couldn’t handle rain.

Waymo plans to put its own software and hardware into cars at the new factory with the help of Magna, an auto supplier that builds self-driving kits for Lyft’s autonomous vehicles. Waymo already leads the way in self-driven miles tested. Now it’s pushing even further towards a robot-car future. 

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