Despite many rumors, plus reports that work has been ongoing for years amidst several setbacks, the Apple Car still remains something of a mystery. However, a new job opening at Apple may have just confirmed one of the key rumored features.
Apple is currently hiring (opens in new tab) a “Radar Test Engineer” that’s supposed to be working on “Autonomous Systems.” That would suggest there’s some truth to the rumors that the Apple Car will be some sort of autonomous vehicle.
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According to the listing, the Radar Test Engineer will join Apple’s Sensors team, which is “developing new radar technologies for use in autonomous systems.” It’s also preferred that candidates have “experience in robotics control and automation.”
Unfortunately, the job description doesn’t reveal a whole lot of information about Apple’s car plans, or how far along development is — though it does hint that the Apple Car is still in development. After all, unless Apple is planning some sort of radar-sensor in a future iPhone or iPad, like the Soli chip in the Pixel 4, it’s pretty obvious that this hire will end up working on systems destined for the Apple Car.
Even if the rumors of complete autonomy aren’t true, Apple would be foolish to launch an electric car without some level of autonomous driving. Radar is an obvious way to make this happen.
Radar is quite a common feature in modern cars, and it's utilized in autonomous driving systems that are already out on the road. Its inclusion enables a car to detect and track objects around it, which is a pretty important aspect of letting a vehicle do some of the driving work.
Even the most basic level one autonomous driving systems, like adaptive cruise control, require some method of “seeing” what’s around the car, for both safety and functionality reasons. Radar, which has been around since before World War 2, is the obvious choice, and it's used by most manufacturers. Even Tesla, which can seem a little contrarian at times, has used radar in Autopilot — though newer Model 3 and Model Ys have had this removed in favor of an optical camera-centric system.
What stage is the Apple Car at?
The Apple Car project has seemingly been in development for years now, and appears to have been hit by several setbacks. That's not particularly surprising: not only is moving into the automotive world a huge leap for a company that focuses on personal computing, but there have also been multiple reports claiming Apple hasn’t had a particularly positive reception from the auto industry as a whole.
In fact, there have been rumors that automakers are worried about partnering with Apple, because they don’t want to cede control of the project and wind up as “the Foxconn of the auto industry” — a reference to the company best known for assembling the iPhone.
Hyundai, for instance, was initially rumored to be in talks to manufacture the Apple Car, but was later reported as wanting to hand over those responsibilities to subsidiary Kia. That deal was then reported to have fallen apart after news of the discussions leaked.
Likewise, Apple has reportedly faced delays when negotiating with battery suppliers, since one of its terms was that all Apple Car batteries must be manufactured in the United States — and not somewhere like China. More recently, it lost Doug Field, an auto industry veteran who was reportedly put in charge of Apple Car development, to Ford.
Another report, this time from Korea, claimed that Apple was shifting its strategy to handle Apple Car production alone, in order to avoid any more delays. Obviously that tactic will require Apple to hire more experienced workers and engineers, rather than relying on the existing teams an auto-industry partner already has on staff.
Rumors about when the Apple Car could go on sale have been all over the place, and Apple is not one to comment on speculation. Several reports have mentioned 2024 as a possible launch date, though others have said the car isn’t likely to arrive until 2025 or 2026 at the earliest — an opinion reportedly shared by Apple employees working on the project.
With Apple being so secretive, it’s impossible to say for sure what’s going on. What we do appear to know is that the Apple Car has been hit by several major setbacks, but that it appears to still be in active development. It may still be a while before we learn anything more concrete, but after all this time it should at least be worth waiting for.
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