Will the Apple Car ever see the light of day? Personally, I’m quite skeptical, especially amid reports that Apple scaled back development on Project Titan last year. What’s more, it stands to reason that Apple, in recent years, shifted a tremendous amount of resources from its car project to the Vision Pro team. Still, Apple’s automotive initiative soldiers on, slowly but surely.
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With that said, Patently Apple brings to our attention an updated patent filing from Apple, which perhaps lays the groundwork for an autonomous car with collapsable inputs. In other words, imagine a self-driving car wherein the steering wheel and the pedals retract — or can be rotated out of view — when not needed during long stretches of autonomous driving. The patent was granted recently and is the brainchild of Alexander Hitzinger. Hitzinger was the head of product design for Project Titan for nearly three years before leaving in 2019.
The patent reads in part:
Traditional passenger vehicles include driver input devices for receiving driver inputs to control motion of the vehicle. Typical driver input devices include a steering wheel, an accelerator pedal, and a brake pedal for receiving the driver inputs that include steering, accelerator, and brake control inputs, respectively, from the driver.
With ongoing development of autonomous driving systems, driver inputs may not be required to control motion of the vehicle in at least some circumstances, whereas driver inputs may still be required or desired in other circumstances.
For example, driver input may not be required while driving on a highway with adaptive cruise control systems. whereby accelerator and braking inputs are automated to accelerate and slow the vehicle according to radar-based sensing of other vehicles, and with lane-centering systems, whereby steering inputs are automated to maintain the vehicle in a lane.
Depending on the autonomous driving systems that are available on a given vehicle, driver input may still be required in other circumstances, such as in congested or less-controlled environments (e.g., in urban areas, or may otherwise be desired, such as when the driver simply prefers to manually control motion of the vehicle.
While intriguing, it’s important to remember that Apple has a penchant for patenting every single invention its engineers dream up, no matter how impractical they might be. Put differently, don’t expect this feature to see the light of day anytime soon, if ever.
Is the idea even practical?
Even if we reach a point where Level 5 autonomous driving becomes a reality — no matter the company — the idea of making controls like the steering wheel and accelerator pedals retractable is utterly nonsensical. It’s simply adding additional and unnecessary complexity. What’s more, I can’t imagine any driver born in this day and age being comfortable driving without the ability to quickly grasp the steering wheel when something unexpected arises.
But again, an Apple Car may never even see the light of day. Recall an expose on Apple’s car struggles from The Information last year. The report relayed that some Apple executives, namely Craig Federighi, remain skeptical of the effort. Additionally, reports indicate that Apple’s self-driving software works well on pre-determined routes, but tends to go haywire when put on an unfamiliar route.
The latest reports suggest that Apple is eyeing 2026 as a potential release date for its autonomous Apple Car, though don’t expect the first incarnation to include a ton of bells and whistles. That is if it launches at all.
Recall, Apple only enters markets where it can offer something different and better than what’s currently available. We saw this play out with Apple’s foray into the MP3 player and smartphone market with the iPod and iPhone, respectively. In contrast, the automotive space has several sophisticated players who are constantly innovating. From BMW and Tesla to Porsche and Audi, it’s simply hard to imagine Apple bringing something unexpected to the table.