Apple is reportedly in talks with four or more companies about being suppliers for the next generation of self-driving sensors as part of its autonomous vehicle efforts.
According to a report in Reuters, citing three people familiar with the discussions, Apple is looking for suppliers for lidar, a sensor that gives drivers a 3D view of the road. Apple wants the sensor to be smaller, cost less and be mass produced more easily than what is currently available. One person told Reuters Apple is calling for a “revolutionary design.” The sources wouldn’t say which companies Apple is talking to, the report noted.
The talks are new evidence that Apple is taking the self-driving car market seriously, pouring focus into Project Titan, its top-secret self-driving car project. It also implies the Cupertino, California iPhone maker wants to play a role in all aspects of hardware to control self-driving cars. It is in a race with car makers as well as technology companies to find the technology that prevails. In recent months Apple has been making key hires, poaching engineers from Tesla and Google, and has increased road testing to get ahead of rivals.
According to the report, it’s still unclear if Apple is ultimately going to build its own car under Project Titan or if it plans to be a supplier to automobile manufacturers. One source told the news outlet the fact that Apple is looking for cheaper lidar sensors implies it wants to control the brains behind the car regardless of who makes the vehicle. The sources noted Apple has its own lidar sensor development going on in-house at the same time it talks to suppliers.
The current lidar systems used by Apple come from suppliers such as Velodyne. They use laser light pulses to provide a precise image of what’s around the car, the report said. The systems are pricey, costing around $100,000, are bulky and unreliable. Reuters noted that those shortcomings have spawned a new market with lidar system startups raking in $1 billion in investments.