The Guardian reports that it has obtained exclusive documents showing that Apple may be much closer to testing its Project Titan self-driving car than many observers might have suspected.
It would appear that Apple is developing a self-driving car in Silicon Valley, given the fact that the company is putting out feelers for a secure testing facility, and indications are that they must be almost ready for testing.
The documents reveal further that in May, engineers from Apple met with officials from GoMomentum which is a former naval base near San Francisco that is being converted in a high security test area for self-drive vehicles.
The correspondence which the Guardian obtained under a public records act request indicates that an Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote to GoMomentum, “We would ….. like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to co-ordinate around other parties who may be using [it].”
Apple declined a Guardian request for comment on the matter.
GoMomentum is located on the disused Second World War era Concord naval weapons station. This facility has 20 miles of paved highways and streets ideal for vehicle testing. The base is a militarily secured zone closed to the public, making it an ideal facility for secret tests. Official say the base is “the largest secure test facility in the world for the “testing validation and commercialization of connected vehicles (CV) applications and autonomous (self-driving) vehicle (AV) to define the next generation of transportation network infrastructure.”
Mercedes-Benz and Honda are reported to have already tested self-drive vehicles using the same facility.
Apple, which is known for its secrecy, will find the high degree of security available at the test site appealing as it has managed to keep the development of the self-drive car under wraps until now. While the company has never confirmed that it is building an electric self-drive car, codenamed Project Titan, senior vice-president Jeff Williams described such a vehicle as the ultimate mobile device. He added that Apple was, “exploring a lot of different markets ….[in which] we think we can make an enormous amount of difference.”
Meanwhile, Tim Cook, Apple CEO has held a number of meetings with auto industry executives and at the same time the company has poached engineers from companies such as Tesla and Mercedes-Benz as well as power experts from electric car battery manufacturer A123 Systems.
Engineer Frank Fearon who approached GoMomentum has previous experience working on a revolutionary electric motorbike with Lit Motors, a Silicon Valley start-up. While studying at Georgia Institute of Technology, Fearon helped build an autonomous paraglider.
The owners of GoMomentum, Contra Costa Transportation Authority executive director Randy Iwasaki said, “we had to sign a nondisclosure agreement with Apple. We can’t tell you anything other than they've come in and they’re interested.”
Engineers from Tesla Motors tried to tour the site and military personnel refused entry to foreign-born workers and to a manager who refused to divulge his social security number. The manager protested to Jack Hall of GoMomentum in an email saying, “At this point, I'll retract our interest in this test site until the process is worked out.”
Apple, on the other hand with its penchant for secrecy should welcome such stringent security.
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