Letter from Apple to U.S. Transportation Regulators Expresses Interest in Autonomous Vehicles [u]


A letter Apple sent to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposes a policy update that would grant newcomers the same opportunities as established automotive manufacturers when it comes to testing their vehicles on public roads.

In the letter, which was discovered by the Wall Street Journal, Apple’s director of product integrity Steve Kenner said the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy provides a safe and flexible path toward the development of automated vehicles. However, he suggests additional regulations that could allow new companies to easily join the space and offer competitive products.

The proposed policy, which will help govern the future of driverless vehicles, was introduced by the Department of Transportation and the NHTSA in September. The new policy would allow companies like Apple and Google to intermingle with automotive giants like Ford and Toyota.

In the letter, Kenner echoes affirmations from Apple CEO Tim Cook saying that the company is interested in bringing machine learning and automation tech to the personal transportation market. The letter goes much deeper and outlines specific areas of attention and potential changes to existing regulations that suggest Apple has been investigating the space for some time.

Kenner focused the letter on three ethical areas that require attention:

  1. The implications of artificial decision making on safety, mobility, and legality.
  2. Ensuring privacy and security in automated vehicle design (an area where Apple takes great pride).
  3. The impact driverless vehicles will have on the public good.

Apple suggests open sharing of anonymized data from crashes, near-misses and the similar incidents. This data will allow the construction of a comprehensive dataset to be accessible by all industry players. These collaborative methods would help automotive manufacturers design and deploy increasingly accurate driverless systems. In the letter, Kenner writes:

“To maximize the safety benefits of automated vehicles, encourage innovation, and promote fair competition, established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally. Instead of applying for exemptions, all companies should be given an opportunity to implement internal safety processes summarized in a Safety Assessment.”

Though the NHTSA is unable to modify the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, it can update the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy to bypass the requirement for exemptions, thus streamlining public road testing for companies like Apple and Google.

Update Dec. 4: According to the WSJ, Apple said it commented to the NHTSA because of their investments in automation and machine learning software:

“We want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry,” Mr. Neumayr said.