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Apple in Talks With Multiple Lidar Suppliers to Buy Sensors for its Self-driving Car

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【Summary】Apple Inc. is reportedly in talks with multiple lidar developers to supply the perception sensors for its secretive "Apple Car" project, Bloomberg reports. Rather than develop complex hardware in-house, Apple is looking to outside vendors to supply components for its planned autonomous and electric vehicle, the people said.

Eric Walz    Feb 19, 2021 11:50 AM PT
Apple in Talks With Multiple Lidar Suppliers to Buy Sensors for its Self-driving Car
Lidar uses laser beams to create 3D images of a vehicle's surroundings. (Photo: Luminar Technologies Inc.)

Computer giant Apple Inc. has successfully kept its self-driving plans secret for the past several years. But the company's latest talks with automaker Kia about building an Apple-branded electric vehicle have revealed that Apple is indeed up to something. 

Now according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified due to the private nature of the discussions, Apple is reportedly in talks with multiple lidar developers to supply the sensors for its car project, Bloomberg reports.

Rather than develop complex hardware in-house, Apple is looking to outside vendors for the hardware for its planned autonomous vehicle, the people said.

Like Apple, the world's automakers are also forming partnerships with lidar suppliers as vehicles come equipped with more automated driving features, rather than developing the technology in-house.

As advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) become standard on many new vehicles, there is a growing demand for lidar technology and automakers are turning to lidar developers like Luminar and Velodyne Lidar Inc to supply low-cost automotive-grade lidar sensors at scale that can be installed in a vehicle during production. 

Lidar is also a vital sensor to support new vehicle safety features, such as automotive emergency braking (AEB) and automated cruise control (ACC), which are offered in many new models today as standard. 

Lidar, which is an acronym for "light detecting and ranging", is an important sensor for self-driving vehicles, acting as an extra set of eyes on the road ahead. The technology works by sending out pulses of laser light and measuring the time its takes for the light to reflect back off objects. 

The light reflected is used to create a 3D representation of a vehicle's surroundings known as a lidar point cloud. These lidar images act as the "eyes" of a self-driving vehicle.  Lidar is used to identify nearby vehicles, trees, buildings, bridges and pedestrians and enables safe navigation. 

Lidar images are often combined with cameras, radar and AI-powered perception software. 

The ongoing discussions at Apple signal that the company has not yet found a preferred lidar supplier. More than likely, Apple mulling different designs for the supplier that meets its unique needs.

With the recent advances in autonomous driving, the race to supply lidar to the auto industry has led to a number of high-profile lidar startups launching IPO to raise capital on Wall Street by merging with special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), also known as "blank check" companies. The most recent IPO was from Volvo-backed lidar developer Luminar in December.

In May of last year, lidar startup Luminar Technologies Inc. made headlines when it was chosen by Volvo Cars to supply lidar technology for the automaker's future generation of self-driving vehicles. Luminar's partnership with Volvo will support the automaker's first self-driving technology for highways called "Highway Pilot."

South Korean automaker Kia Motors was thrust into the global spotlight in January and again earlier this month after rumors began swirling that it was in talks with Apple to jointly develop an electric car. 

The reports said that Apple was moving forward with its self-driving car project and was aiming to produce a passenger vehicle as early as 2024 that could include advanced battery technology developed by the iPhone maker. 

Earlier this month, A South Korean newspaper reported that Kia received a $3.6 billion investment from Apple as part of a collaboration to make electric vehicles. According to the report, the deal was supposed to be signed on Wednesday, Feb 17 and the Apple Car was slated for manufacturing in 2024. Now Kia says those talks are on hold.

Apple's secretive electric car project is code-named "Project Titan."


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