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Are the New Round of Car Rumors Believable?



Runaway rumors have surfaced once again on the flimsiest of evidence that Apple is building a car. The UK's Guardian, who claimed to have an "exclusive" story proving that an Apple car existed really danced to a tune in their head. It wasn't a smoking gun, that's for sure.  Is there evidence of Apple possibly working on a vehicle-related project? Yes there is, but making the leap to an actual Apple Vehicle is a leap only cultists are willing to make at this stage of the game. I still believe that if Apple had such a plan, every car company would dump Apple's CarPlay in a heartbeat. The sudden public thud of Car manufacturers dumping CarPlay en masse would signal that they've discovered that Apple is doing something that would be considered a direct threat to them or the auto industry. No such activity has taken place. So whatever Apple is working on, it's likely not an entire car.


What proof did the Guardian have to confirm that Apple is working not only a car but an autonomous vehicle? Allegedly the Guardian obtained public records that confirmed revelations that Apple was making a car. The proof includes the following:


1) "Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: 'We would ... like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it].'"


2) A program manager from GoMentum Station wrote to Fearon to postpone a tour of the facility and noted "We would still like to meet in order to keep everything moving and to meet your testing schedule."


3) In passing during an event hosted by Mossberg Jeff Williams said the car was "the ultimate mobile device."


4) When Fearon approached GoMentum Station, he wrote: "We are hoping to see a presentation on the ... testing grounds with a layout, photos, and a description of how the various areas of the grounds could be used."


5) "We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Apple," says Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, owner of GoMentum Station. "We can't tell you anything other than they've come in and they're interested."


That's it. There's a non-disclosure agreement where they can't confirm anything and yet randomly and selectively the Guardian was able to cobble together quotes from the very people who are contractually obligated not to reveal anything..


Does that make sense to you? That alone would disqualify anything the Guardian has stated. Yet the fact is likely that they didn't reveal what the project was really about to begin with. It was all a very carefully weaved story using tidbits of other rumors that never revealed anything, and the history of a facility itself is not proof of an Apple car.


Apple visiting various automotive companies means nothing by itself as well. Apple is working to push CarPlay and is likely considering future interrelated technologies. So the hype surrounding iCar at this stage remains a myth and pure speculation. 


Do you remember the crazy hyped stories from the Apple blogosphere about seeing Apple vans with LIDAR systems instantly translating into an Apple Car that turned out to be nothing of the sort? Apple set the story straight because the rumors had derailed so badly that Apple had to step in to officially say that the vans were for Apple Maps.


Other recent rumors have killed the Apple TV service that was expected to roll out this fall, killed the new iPad 3 for 2015, delayed the so-called iPad Pro and so, inventing another car story is to make everyone forget the negative news was almost expected.


For the record, I'm not saying that the rumor tidbits aren't adding up to Apple working with the automotive industry on other major projects, like advanced interface technologies for vehicles because Apple has long-standing intellectual property on that front.


One of Apple's automotive related patents covers controlling a driver's environment such as power mirrors, power seats, communications and so forth. But more importantly, Apple has recently had a blast of granted patents and a new patent emerged relating to technology developed by PrimeSense as noted below:


One: Apple Wins Patent for a Photonics Optical Projection Module

Two: Apple Granted a 3D Camera Patent Focused on Time-Coded Illumination

Three: Apple Wins Patent for a Projector System Designed for Controlling Games on iDevices via Gestures

Four: Apple Invents a Highly Advanced Air-Gesturing System for Future iDevices and Beyond


The most interesting patent in this group was perhaps their fifth patent that surfaced just this week that covered a unique new angle regarding PrimeSense's technology for "computer vision," which is a distinct category of technology.


What could computer vision be used for? Well, for starters, how about "systems to support an autonomous vehicle." Under "Applications for computer vision," Wikipedia reveals several references to autonomous vehicles. One reference states "Fully autonomous vehicles typically use computer vision for navigation, i.e. for knowing where it is, or for producing a map of its environment (SLAM) and for detecting obstacles."


So while Apple's patents from PrimeSense could be used to introduce a future 3D camera for iDevices and/or used for a Kinect-like device, the technology, as the patent itself testifies, can also be used for computer vision.


In a 2013 patent report regarding gaze technology we noted: "Interestingly, beyond devices such as an iPhone, iPad or MacBook Air, Apple specifically adds that the display and imaging components #208 noted in patent FIG. 2B may be integrated within the packaging of other devices or structures such as a vehicle …" Could that be applied to a Heads up Display system for a vehicle? Yes.


Apple also has a number of patents regarding heads-up display technology. Then this week an off-the-wall rumor from Global Equities Research surfaced stating that Apple was working on a secret project and described it this way: "A device which is 27″ to 50″ Curved Glass somewhat resembling a car windshield or a curved display with the whole surface area acts like a HUD (Heads Up Display) with various sensors are built right into the Glass." While I didn't overly take it seriously and stated so in the report, I decided to run with it should it ever connect with other rumors in a meaningful way.


Well, the crazy rumor just might be part of what's behind Apple's secret project. Whether it leads to an Apple car or not isn't known at this time, but the evidence is beginning to take shape that Apple may be inventing an advanced HUD system for a vehicle windshield.


No matter how advanced a HUD system might be, Apple would need to do its own vehicle testing on a track to prove it could work at highway speeds where it would be needed most. They can't really do that kind of testing in a closed lab.


So could this be where the Guardian's test track rumors come into play? I don't know, but that angle would certainly be logical. Yet making the leap from that single point to meaning it's about an outright fully functional Apple car based on leasing time at a car track facility alone proves nothing.


In the end Car rumors are definitely an interesting new category of rumors, but that's all these tidbits add up to at the moment. Do you believe that Apple is working on an advanced vehicle component like a HUD system or a complete car? Send in your comments below.


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