back to article Apple nabs permit to experiment with self-driving iCars in Cali

Apple is the latest player to enter the race to test out self-driving cars, alongside other big names including Tesla, Uber and Google’s Waymo. It received a permit on Friday from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to toy with autonomous vehicles on the US state's roads. The company is notoriously secretive about …

  1. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Facepalm

    “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

    As usual... Apple tries to patent something with boatloads of prior-art...

    Google's lawyers are going to have a field-day with this...

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

      As the saying goes...

      There are many ways to skin a cat

      If Company B does the same thing as Company A but using a method that is NOT described in the patent then Company A's patent attourneys will tell them that they don't have a leg to stand on.

      The devil is in the detail.

      1. WatAWorld

        Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

        The article did give a link to the actual patent so you can see which means of skinning a cat they claim is new:

        http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.html&r=2173&f=G&l=50&d=PG01&s1=(1%2F1.CCLS.+AND+20161208.PD.)&p=44&OS=ccl/1/1+and+pd/12/8/2016&RS=(CCL/1/1+AND+PD/20161208)

        As you can see it is indeed as @malle-herbert said.

        Vectors of where the car is.

        Vectors and polyhedrons to describe the obstacle.

        Bounding circles to describe what must be avoided.

        Vectors to describe where the obstacle is in relation to the car.

        Computer systems with memory, display units, memory and one or more processors.

        Etc., etc.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

      "As usual... Apple tries to patent something with boatloads of prior-art..."

      It seems you don't understand the patent system at all.

      The reason for the existence of patents is that the patent owner gets a time limited monopoly in exchange for publication, so that others can improve on the published patent. Yes, boatloads of prior art _is supposed to be there_. And then you improve the prior art and get a patent on the improvement.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

        And not only that, you are allowed to come up with other ways to solve the same problem!

        People who assume a patent on "Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles" must have prior art, or be obvious, don't understand how patents work. You don't patent ideas, you patent a particular method of a general idea like "Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles".

        Of course, the lawyers always try to write patents in as general a manner as possible to cover multiple methods, so maybe a prior patent already covers the method(s) Apple's patent listed. If so, that's a question for a judge if one of those earlier patent holders sues Apple (if/when Apple comes out with a product that uses this patent, since you can only sue someone for infringement if they use one of your patents, not if they try to patent what you think is the same thing)

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

          Prior art = Tron ?

          1. Mark Jan

            Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

            Polygonal Obstacles With Rounded Corners surely?

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Not sure I'd want to ride in an Apple self driving car

      They'll just deny their cars ever have accidents, like they denied for decades their products could get malware.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

      I'm off to the patent office with my application for a method of "collision avoidance of arbitrary polyhedral obstacles", so my car will be able to avoid 3D obstacles too. :-)

  2. Frank N. Stein

    If Apple somehow made this work in a car that performed well, handled well, and got decent gas mileage, and people WANTED it, AND it was priced correctly, it could make them a boatload of cash and put them some steps ahead of Google, in that area.

    1. Wade Burchette

      This is Apple. Priced correctly is defined differently for them. Apple could build Powell Motor's The Homer, price it higher than a BMW 7 series, and still have people lining up to buy it.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Queues

      If Apple somehow made this work in a car that performed well, handled well, and got decent gas mileage, and people WANTED it, AND it was priced correctly

      Have queues started forming at Apple Stores yet?

    3. WatAWorld

      Frank, same is true no matter who comes up with the car -- or any product or service, any industry, cars, computers, TVs, music.

      Company comes up with a good one, people want it, and they make a boatload of cash and it puts them ahead of their competitors.

      But a question: What does it mean for a car to 'handle well' when nobody is handling it, when it is being handled by a computer? Do you mean a car that 'rides well'?

      Or maybe it is a difference between UK and North American English?

  3. TRT Silver badge

    Only one button on the dash...

    Recognises your finger print and takes you home.

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Only one button on the dash...

      And will refuse to drive down roads not approved by Apple - those on which there are shops where you can buy products from rivals.

    2. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: Only one button on the dash...

      Or, if it's anything like the one button on my iPhone, it fails to recognise your finger more than half the time, and then opens Siri when you try to summon the pass code screen. As obviously a swipe to unlock was too easy.

  4. handleoclast
    Trollface

    Somebody trademark "iCar"

    1. Trumpet Winsock

      Re: Somebody trademark "iCar"

      As it will be designed in America then perhaps iCar-US. I'm sure that Apple has the hubris to steer the design through the labyrinthine American patent system.

      1. WatAWorld

        Re: Somebody trademark "iCar"

        iCar is trademarked in Canada already, it is a training company.

        And in France it is a ceramics factory.

        In Germany iCar does aeronautics parts.

        iVan is too many things to mention in Eastern Europe.l

        But iSedan is available.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: Somebody trademark "iCar"

          I still don't think Apple intends to build cars as the margin isn't really there. They're more likely looking to expand their patent portfolio so they can partner with or license it to companies already in the industry. Of course I could be wrong since they traditionally like to have full control over the hardware. Perhaps they see a less competitive future for the auto market where the automobile market is split like the mobile phone market. Sounds a bit too dystopian for me.

          Alright Siri, no damn it! Turn left!

    2. RobThBay

      Re: Somebody trademark "iCar"

      You mean like I-Car Canada?

      https://www.i-car.ca/

  5. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Not The Only One

    From what I have read many companies are fiddling with autonomous vehicles including automakers. Given the potential rewards for solving the computing issues are great it is not surprising that Fruit is interested. For Fruit to make a pile of cash it is not necessary for them to have a car but to have the technology for sale/license to the automakers. A variation of how Slurp really makes money from Android.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Not The Only One

      "For Fruit to make a pile of cash it is not necessary for them to have a car but to have the technology for sale/license to the automakers."

      "Nice self driving car you've got there. Now if you license our tech, you you won't have to spend years in court with us before you can sell it."

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Not The Only One

      I'm not sure licensing automotive software will be particularly lucrative for very long, since there is likely to be a lot of competition and not much to distinguish them. Why should you prefer Apple's self driving software over Google's or Bosch's or Ford's? It would take a while for safety differences to shake out, and that would be evolving over time as software gets updated. Assuming they all take you from point A to point B in much the same way, what difference does it make?

      Now maybe the Apple's UI is nicer, but they wouldn't need a permit to test self driving cars if they only intended to put a pretty UI over someone else's self driving software.

      Think about it in terms of phones. If Apple had built iOS and licensed it to others, how much could Apple charge to license a copy of iOS when Google gives Android away for free? They wouldn't be worth 3/4 of a trillion dollars today, that's for sure!

      If they want to make real money, they have to "sell the hardware", which means selling cars that like the phones are intended to derive benefit from having the hardware and software designed to work well together, rather than being glued together from different sources as is in the case in the Android and PC markets.

      However, Apple can develop the car behind closed doors and never needs to let it see the light of day (at least not in the US where the press might see it, they could open a subsidiary in Europe somewhere with some weird name and make people think it was going to be just another boutique automaker) They can use existing cars - I think their permit application says they'll be testing using Volvos - to develop the software, and only move to testing with their own cars when they have all the bugs worked out of it using the testbed cars. That will be several years away, minimum.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Not The Only One

        Or just hold sufficiently vague and general patents to convince the lawyers of those actually making the cars that it's cheaper to pay a licence fee than to go to court and prove that the patents don't apply or are invalid.

        Lost of companies make plenty of money that way, without any of the risks involved in having real product in the field.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Not The Only One

          Yes, various trolls will file the patents of the form "X, but in an autonomous car" variety where X is something that already existed in manually driven cars or in other forms of computer. They'll never spend a dollar on R&D for actual products, let alone try to sell any. That's just built in friction you have to assume, unless/until patent laws are reformed. It won't change the profitability equation for those who do field products in the market, whether self-driving software only or cars themselves.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Not The Only One

            I read that it was Lexus SUVs that Apple are using as test beds. Despite a couple of hiccups a few years back, I believe Lexus still have a reputation for being reliable, and fairly anonymous-looking in the States (they're a bit scarcer in the UK)

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Not The Only One

        > Why should you prefer Apple's self driving software over Google's or Bosch's or Ford's? ... Now maybe the Apple's UI is nicer, but they wouldn't need a permit to test self driving cars if they only intended to put a pretty UI over someone else's self driving software.

        The UI won't stop with the car. Indeed, an iPhone (with access to messages and calender appointments) would have a fair idea of where the user wants to go before they even get in the car. The UI would have provision for organising travel for different family members (if we're on the assumption that the private car ownership model will still hold). The UI would be linked to related functions, such as the iPhone waking the user with an alarm.

        1. WatAWorld

          Re: Not The Only One

          Pretty much if you want to put your guidance software in someone else's car and test it and tweak it, you're going to need a permit to build and test self-driving cars.

          The fact is that the software being tested is going to have huge safety implications. It is going to change the safety aspects of the car.

          Consider aircraft. You install an untested unapproved piece of electronics that does pretty much anything, let alone autonomous guidance, and you've got to treat and label your aircraft as "Experimental", get approval, and not permit passengers.

          Aircraft or car, it is a public safety issue when you're testing safety features in public. Testing guidance control systems is going to require a permit even if the car used is a standard production model from Ford or GM.

      3. WatAWorld

        Re: Not The Only One

        "how much could Apple charge to license a copy of iOS when Google gives Android away for free?"

        Maybe more money than MS made with Windows, given that there are more phones than desktops.

  6. Captain DaFt

    “use simple geometry to identify which edges of which obstacles an agent is most likely to collide.”

    AKA what every robotics hobbyist group has bee doing since the Gameboy camera hit the market.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Rounded edges, of course.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Automotive

    Personal

    Prosperity

    Limitation

    Exigency

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If someone uses an Apple car to get someone out of jail illegally does it invalidate the warranty?

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      You think Apple's take on an autonomous car will be KITT?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Jailbreak...

  9. Michael Thibault

    "car" != "vehicle"

  10. Tromos
    Joke

    Am I too late for a design patent for a car with rounded corners?

  11. Haku

    The first iCar crash out on open roads will be blamed on the driver for holding the steering wheel wrong...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bet the bonnet is sealed shut so you can't change the battery...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      ...and no headphone socket. Should be waterproof though for those rising sea levels ;-)

  13. PhilipN Silver badge

    Prior Art - Crash! Bang! Wallop!

    I was about to cast a vote in favour of self-driving vehicles - as long as EVERY vehicle was self-driving. But then remembered (as others here will) "driving" beaten up dodgems* at [your choice of rundown English coastal resort's even more rundown funfair] when the brakes didn't work, the steering wheel barely made a difference and the accelerator was worse than useless. I changed my mind.

    On reflection I prefer a human brain - with all its wonderful defects - in charge.

    *Hi, kids. Imagine Grand Theft Auto played out for real** on a basketball court.

    ** No, not virtually real. Really real.

    1. JohnMurray

      Re: Prior Art - Crash! Bang! Wallop!

      While I can see that autonomous vehicles are inevitable, I wonder how they will manage on the public highway. There they will have to cope not only with the "real world" but the "surreal world": people in non-autonomous vehicles!

  14. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Coat

    “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

    So it prevents collisions with random absent* parrots? Looks easy to me.

    * alternative: dead. Stiff, deceased, etc.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles.”

      @Haku, Stoneshop

      Prior to the "Dead Parrot" sketch, there was "How To Irritate People - The Car Salesman". A scene that will be repeated when these go on sale?

  15. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    A-tunes

    Just what I want. A car from the people who gave us iTunes.

  16. Wensleydale Cheese

    Will they be thin?

    If these are as skinny as their other products, they'll need pedals to supplement the lack of battery power.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
  17. andrewj

    Every time they update it, you'll need a different type of wheel for it to move.

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    California and Cali

    I'm trying to figure out what the California DMV has to do with with a city in Colombia?

    Oh, I get it. You think you're one of those cute hipsters that likes to shorten California to Cali.

    AFAIK (but it's been a while since I lived there) hardly anyone actually in California ever refers to it as Cali. I certainly never did in any of 25 years I lived there.

    1. J. Cook Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: California and Cali

      Well, some of us like to refer to it as 'Commiefornia', but for a multitude of reasons unrelated to this article. :)

    2. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: California and Cali

      Funny, I've lived in SoCal now for several years and it seems about half the people I meet call it Cali while the rest twist it in some other way either a DPRK/Commie reference as the other poster mentioned or a getting screwed gag like Californication or Califuckinya. Oddly the only people who seem to complain are folks on the internet in a manner similar to when you're in Paris and mention learning French in Quebec.

    3. Pedigree-Pete
      Joke

      Re: California and Cali

      @AC. God strike down anyone who refers to San Francisco as "Frisco". A lesson promptly learnt in my short visit to that fine City. Then, I'm not a Jackson. PP

  20. WatAWorld

    I hear they first plan to patent the revolutionary idea of a box with 4 wheels.

    I hear they first plan to patent the revolutionary idea of a box with 4 wheels.

    In phase two they'll invent and patent windows.

    In phase three they'll invent a means to roll down and roll up the windows.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are the headline writers aware?

    That Cali is a city in Colombia?

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