Autonomous cars competition drives innovation

By Tom Lee, Account Director

This week Apple publically announced for the first time that it is investing heavily in driverless cars. Now the news might not come as a surprise, but the timing of the announcement is significant because the company has also called on the US highways regulator to promote “fair competition” and critique current policies.

The company has been working on an electric car project for the best part of two years, with a typical techy codename – Titan. So why publically talk about driverless cars now? Well, Apple didn’t actually announce what it’s doing. Instead we’re left to speculate – is it just producing software and compatible technology? Or is it going to build and sell robotic vehicles? The company is  clearly keeping its options open and for now will keep us guessing as excitement builds at the prospect of an Apple car.

Apple’s first steps into driverless cars involved applying pressure to the regulators by urging the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to not penalise firms testing the vehicles on public roads. Currently, U.S. guidelines do not clarify whether test vehicles that may not be intended for retail sale can receive an exemption to operate on public roads without a lengthy approval process.

The public’s main concern is understandably all around safety. We’re always going to be a little fearful of something we don’t necessarily have control of. But are these concerns legitimate? Well only this year a Tesla vehicle was involved in a fatal accident, and Google had an incident as well. But there is still some way to go before the public is convinced, and the way to get to perfection is through innovation caused by competition.

From a technology perspective, having another player in the driverless cars market can only be considered a good thing. Elon Musk’s Tesla is considered to be the leader, but competitors are emerging to challenge its throne with the likes of Google stepping up to the plate, as well as Ford, General Motors, Uber, BMW, and now Apple. Right now the race is on get driverless technology available to consumers.

Apple is one of the most recognised brands in the world, so it’s only natural that it would make this step in order to prepare the market to attract more investors, potential customers and to create a general buzz of excitement. However, there seems to be a pre-emptive attempt to dampen potential future controversy by asking the NHTSA, publically at least, to take it on easy on developers. We’ve seen severe media and publish backlash against Google and Tesla following incidents but it hasn’t stopped them from pushing forward with their projects.

Finally, collaboration is the next logical step between the regulators and the competitors. While it’s unlikely to expect that Apple, Google and Tesla will share data, it is important that they do so with the NHTSA. Responsibility not only falls on the manufacturers, but ultimately the regulators who apply the proper rules and tests to ensure public safety is considered.

With Tesla being widely considered as the market leader, and Google making great strides, Apple has some catching up to do. But what can we expect?  Exciting and great inventions — that is what we should anticipate. This is the company that has brought us such things the Mac, iPod and iPhone. The only thing Apple needs now is time, time to get in the game and bring forth its nifty gadgetry to the car of the future.