Apple Better Be Ready for the Mad World of Car Regulations

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple ‘sets shipping date for electric car’.

Apple has set an ambitious ship date for its electric car: The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is revving things up to deliver a car by 2019, and has the green light to triple its 600-person team.For Apple, a “ship date” doesn’t necessarily mean the date that customers receive a new product; it can also mean the date that engineers sign off on the product’s main features. Though Apple is conducting research on fully autonomous vehicles, its first release will be an electric car—not a self-driving car, as previously rumored.

Apple spent more than a year investigating the feasibility of an Apple-branded car, including meeting with two groups of officials in California to discuss regulation of self-driving vehicles. Developing a car that runs on electricity and can drive itself will be hard, but those challenges obscure another major barrier to putting a vehicle up for sale: the federal government and its many, many, rules for how you make a car. Apple has hired Megan McClain, a former Volkswagen engineer with expertise in automated driving, and Vinay Palakkode, a graduate researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, a hub of automated driving research.

Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter V, Part 571 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” lays out in excruciating detail the standards manufacturers must follow for any passenger car (or bus, or motorcycle) they intend to sell. If Apple does launch an autonomous car, it will go head-to-head with Google, whose self-driving cars have clocked up more than 1m miles since they first made it onto public roads since 2012. Apple has built a reputation for an intense focus on detail, micromanaging every bit of its hardware and software to make its phones, tables, and computers just so—and highly successful. To get into the car business, it will still need that focus on the tiniest of things, but it will no longer be in control of the standards it’s working to meet.

Another complication is how the cars would be sold; Apple is a centralized company whose preferred method of distribution is through direct sales and the Apple Store. Federal guidelines dictate everything from the size and color of the turn signal in the dashboard, to the icon for the fuel gauge, to the exact force each occupant’s seat must be able to withstand.

In the U.S., however, a network of private auto dealerships has cropped up over the past century, stirring up legal issues for automakers who preferred direct sales. The vehicle identification number (VIN), for example, must be 17 characters, without using “I,” “O,” or “Q.” The type face has to be in capitals, in sans serif typeface. (At least Apple’s “San Francisco” font will comply.) The icons in Apple’s hypothetical car, for things like traction control, low tire pressure, and high beams will be the same as those in every modern car you’ve driven, because they’re prescribed by the feds. Apple could potentially align itself with Tesla—now a competitor—or opt to to sell its cars through the conventional route and relinquish some control over its brand and pricing. The rules even govern the exact dimensions of sideview mirrors: “The mirror shall provide the driver a view of a level road surface extending to the horizon from a line, perpendicular to a longitudinal plane tangent to the driver’s side of the vehicle at the widest point, extending 2.4 m out from the tangent plane 10.7 m behind the driver’s eyes, with the seat in the rearmost position.” This small sampling doesn’t even get into crash testing, which brings its own mountain of exacting standards.

But Apple’s total lack of experience in this industry means it’s got a gargantuan amount of studying to do if the feds are going to let it sell a car at all.

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