Apple AI director reveals self-driving car tech is accelerating

When it comes to its self-driving car project, Apple has always been somewhat mysterious. Despite rumors swirling for a long time, it was only in June that Tim Cook confirmed the company is working on software that could be used in self-driving cars, among other things. 

At a recent talk, Apple’s director of AI research, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, actually gave some insight into what kind of capabilities this software might have and various projects that have been worked on in recent years. 

One project Salakhutdinov’s team has worked on involves on-board cameras that are able to identify objects even in unfavorable conditions. For example, in heavy rain when water would be covering the camera lenses, the system would still be able to detect other cars, pedestrians and which lanes on the road are driveable. 

Cameras on the road

Even when pedestrians are walking on the sidewalk, partially obscured by parked cars, Salakhutdinov explained the software would still be able to detect their position. 

As well as taking the data it’s being fed to react to its surroundings, Apple’s software will also use it in other ways. For example, a technique known as SLAM will use a combination of mapping and localization to allow the software to understand which direction a vehicle is moving. When used in combination car sensors, it’ll be possible for the software to use this data to build detailed 3D maps.

While we now have a better understanding of the kind of technology and research that’s being undertaken by Apple, how they will fit into its car project is still unclear. Whether or not Apple will commercialize this technology in any way hasn’t been confirmed, but it seems increasingly unlikely that Apple is considering a physical car to house the self-driving brains it’s working on. 

Though licensing its technology out to others isn’t really known as the Apple way, the fact that the company is being more open about what it’s working on in this area could be considered a sign that it’s a route that’s being considered. 

At the very least it shows an awareness that significant advances in the technology won't really be possible unless large research teams from Apple, Google, Facebook and others are open about their developments.

Emma Boyle

Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.