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Think different: A peek into Apple’s driverless car vision

A driverless concept that gives everything away - from a company that gives nothing away (Photo: Apple)

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Stephan Giesler
Stephan Giesler

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Apple indicates its intentions; the bold boy gets the boot and "out of office" takes on a new meaning: read our weekly analysis of the most important news in automated driving!

Since throwing its hat into the self-driving ring, Apple hasn’t exactly given much away in terms of its autonomous driving vision. But a patent discovered last week by Patently Apple might just provide a window into its thinking. And ironically enough, it seems the autonomous cars it envisages will be giving everything away – by letting the car’s occupant and any other observers know it’s every move in advance.

The patent describes various methods of operation for an autonomous vehicle. But the central idea is that the car would make its intentions known to both the driver and other nearby road users via inward and outward facing displays (much like the drive.ai vans we featured). A ‘countdown indicator’ would show the seconds remaining until the next operation along the planned route: e.g. turning left in ten seconds.

For me, the technical details of the display etc. are neither here nor there. The most interesting aspect of this story is that the thing seemingly at the core of Apple’s system design is connection with the user(s). Considering its prowess in user interface design in other products, that comes as no real shock. The intention of this display is obviously to remove surprises. When we drive we feel a connection with other humans that allows us to read off them: for example, if someone is checking their wing mirrors repeatedly, they’re probably going to change lane, whether they indicate or not. When that connection is lost, people lose trust. And as I will never tire saying, trust is the key to acceptance. Apple seems to agree.

Too bold for his own good?

Moving and shaking between the major players in the AD game is normally nothing too exciting. But there was one particularly interesting departure this week: that of Tim Kentley-Klay, co-founder and CEO of high-profile self-driving car startup Zoox.  

In a management shake-up, the board ousted Kentley-Klay before naming board member Carl Bass as its executive chairman and cofounder Jesse Levinson as its president. No reason has been given for the move, leaving room for speculation, which might go something like this…

A few weeks back we featured Zoox in the WIAD after it had secured a further $500 million in funding and opened its doors to reveal a bold yet technologically advanced autonomous vehicle concept. A vehicle that TKK (as he signs off as) was sure was the “right thing”. Not in the slightest bit deterred by the competition from the big boys, TKK wanted to gamble: “It’s a huge bet,” he told Bloomberg, but if it pays off: “They’re f---ed.”

What TKK lacked in automotive experience (none before founding Zoox), he made up for in ambition and entrepreneurial spirit. But might this have been his downfall? Was he just too bold? Perhaps the board just couldn’t buy in to his all-in strategy. Perhaps they want to play it safer. We may call it a game, but it’s business at the end of the day. And boards don’t tend to like huge bets.

Corporate culture killer

Finally, a piece entitled “Forget working from home, autonomous vehicles will drive a boom in working from car,” published on Forbes last week really got me thinking. When the day comes that we can fully switch our attention to something else other than driving while in the car, we win back time. And it is often said that working will be one way to use that time.

But I hadn’t really thought beyond the obvious productivity gains; to the potentially difficult transition into what surely will be a brand-new “working from car” culture.

The article points out the blurring of the line between work and free time for example. The ability to work while commuting will surely affect the hours spent in the office, as people will claim to be working while commuting. And then comes the question of expectation: will you have to be reachable during the commute? Will employers see this as an opportunity to add to your workload? All in all, the worry is that such disruption could make breeding a desired corporate culture much more difficult.

The challenge for employers I suppose is to adapt and harness the potential of autonomous vehicles for the good. Once again, things are more complex than they first seem.

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless),                         

Stephan Giesler

Editor-in-Chief, 2025AD

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