AI experts, and the wider public, were recently provided with an insight into Apple’s autonomous driving efforts recently. At a lunch hosted for around 200 leading artificial intelligence experts, the tech giant’s AI director Ruslan Salakhutdinov offered a sneak peak into current projects that analyse large slews of data from cameras and other sensors data.
Salakhutdinov explained to his audience how the latest AI technology is being used by his team to not only allow self-driving cars to be aware of other vehicles and pedestrians on busy city streets but also to navigate unfamiliar roads and contribute towards constructing highly detailed 3D maps.
Apple’s interest and ongoing research in the future driverless cars market has perhaps been lower key than that of some of its tech giant peers, notably Alphabet and Chinese internet giant Baidu. It seems that was initially intentional with the programme cloaked in secrecy until relatively recently. However, the company broke cover to some extent earlier this year when in June CEO Tim Cook discussed how some of Apple’s vast war chest of cash reserves was being poured into research around driverless AI. He described the pursuit for autonomous vehicles as “the mother of all” artificial intelligence projects.
However, there is still a lack of clarity around the extent of the scale of Apple’s ambition in driverless technology and a company spokesperson declined to comment when asked to in follow-up to Salakhutdinov’s presentation.
The Applie AI demonstration included showcasing software that isolates other vehicles, pedestrians and drivable areas of the road from images produced from cameras mounted on a car. Salakhutdinov showed how the software maintained accuracy with raindrops on the lenses or pedestrians being partially obscured from sight. This has been achieved as a result of progress in the latest technology in the world around machine learning.
Other developments demonstrated by Apple were centred around mapping technology involving AI and ML. One was a software moving in a vehicle being given a sense of direction using a technology call SLAM, which involves simultaneous localisation and mapping. How data collected by cars equipped with cameras and sensors is being used to build deeply detailed 3D maps showing traffic lights and road markings was also shown.
Apple’s lunch, which was held during the NIPS machine learning conference, was reportedly motivated by the need for the company to lure more machine learning experts into the company amid a general shortage of specialised engineers. The big tech companies with ambitions in artificial intelligence and machine learning are being forced to battle over a limited pool of experts. However, competitors such as Facebook, Alphabet and Elon Musk’s Tesla also had a strong presence at the event for the same reason. It appears to be a good time to be an engineer with a background in the latest technology in the world, especially in the fields of AI and ML!