Apple in active talks with multiple LiDAR suppliers for self-driving car tech

Apple is in discussions with multiple suppliers of self-driving car sensors known as LiDAR, Bloomberg News reports, citing “people familiar with the matter” which the outlet characterizes as “a key milestone toward development of its first passenger vehicle.”

Photo of Apple’s autonomous test vehicle (via The Last Driver License Holder)
Photo of Apple’s LiDAR-equipped autonomous test vehicle (via The Last Driver License Holder)

Edward Ludlow , Gabrielle Coppola , and Mark Gurman:

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is in active talks with a number of potential suppliers for these laser-based sensors that allow a car’s computer to “see” its surroundings, said the people, who asked not to be identified due to the private nature of the discussions…

The ongoing discussions are a sign that Apple has yet to settle on a preferred supplier for lidar and that it’s likely mulling a range of options, including a heavily customized version of the sensors, as it moves toward developing a car design. That’s an indication that a finished product is still several years away…

Apple has been testing its robotaxi technology on public roads in California since 2017. The first version of its test cars, modified Lexus SUVs, used a lidar stack made up of off-the-shelf parts, though this has become a more bespoke effort recently…

Reuters reported in 2019 that Apple was talking to lidar makers, but the autonomous vehicle project was fully rebooted afterward. Apple is now in discussions for next-generation lidar that will be considered cutting edge four to five years from now — another indicator of the company’s timeline, said people familiar with the discussions.

MacDailyNews Note: Lumentum is thought to be the primary LiDAR supplier for Apple’s LiDAR-capable iPhones and iPads.

6 Comments

  1. Elon Musk is surely laughing at Apple. He’s already stated that LIDAR tech is useless for autonomous vehicles. He said that any company who uses LIDAR is DOOMED. So what? Apple has been supposedly doomed for many years for everything it does. Now Apple is putting LIDAR on all of its mobile devices. Tsk, tsk. Apparently, all useless. /s
    https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/22/anyone-relying-on-lidar-is-doomed-elon-musk-says/

    Apple doesn’t mind spending money on expensive sensors so is apparently on a “fools errand.” Almost everyone seems to believe what Elon Musk says about vehicle autonomy. It looks as though AppleCar will be crashing into things based on Musk’s genius. /s

    1. Musk is clearly wrong on this one.

      While LIDAR (not “LiDAR” as I’ve been involved in such systems for the U.S. military since the late 70s) is going to be instrumental in the development of a fully functional, self driving vehicle, it is not “key”. It will take many sensors to get around and through all the issues at hand: multi wavelength LIDAR, 62 GHz radar, visible light optical systems, thermal IR systems, and more. Plus those systems will have to be combined with the satellite and ground based position, navigation, and timing systems, e.g., GPS and LORAN-C. None of them by themselves give the system even a fraction of the information they need.

      And the compute power to make this a reality? Apple will need to produce a chip that has 10x the compute power of the M1.

      Right now Tesla and a few others clearly have the lead, but in five years? Apple could easily take the lead if it wanted to do so.

      One thing to think about: Many of these systems of today have very ugly bumps or blisters on the cars for the sensor. Some even go so far as to have complete add on fixtures on top of the cars. Apple, with Apple’s overall design esthetics could build all of that into the design of the car itself. This would be a clear step forward.

  2. Lumentum may be the primary supplier for ios devices but I’m assuming it’s not automotive grade. Automotive grade means the device must perform with no degradation of quality from +85C down to -40C at relative humidity of 95%. It must also survive extended (thousand hours) high G load cyclic testing (for the uninitiated, that means shake it hard non stop for many many days and still have it perform in the end). The LIDAR components in ios devices will not survive automotive test, so they probably need to go to suppliers that are able to do it

  3. Recent Tesla cam video, showed how something as simple as a stray dog on the hard shoulder can cause a multiple pile-up.
    I am more than 100% certain that a human in FULL control of their vehicle would not have reacted so disastrously.

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