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Apple takes key step in plan to develop autonomous vehicle

Apple is in talks with a number of autonomous car sensor vendors known as LIDAR, according to people familiar with the matter, which would be a key milestone towards the development of its first passenger car.

The Cupertino, California-based tech giant is in active talks with several potential suppliers of these laser-based sensors that allow a car’s computer to “perceive” its surroundings, said the people, who asked not to be identified because of the private nature of discussions.

For several years, the company has been working on an autonomous vehicle project and has developed much of the software, underlying processors, and artificial intelligence algorithms required for such a sophisticated system itself.

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As it has done with the iPhone, Apple will seek outside vendors to supply critical hardware for an autonomous vehicle, the people said. The ongoing discussions are a sign that Apple would still have to choose a LIDAR vendor and that it is probably considering a variety of options, including a highly customized version of sensors, as it moves towards developing a design.

That could indicate that the product is still several years away from completion.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

In recent months, at least half a dozen companies that make LIDAR sensors have gone public through a reverse merger, raising hundreds of millions of dollars by tapping into investor appetite for a gamble on future demand for high-tech cars. .

Laser sensor technology is used by many top-tier manufacturers hoping to market autonomous vehicles, including Alphabet’s Waymo unit, Google’s parent company, and General Motors’ Cruise division.

Earlier last week, Benjamin Lyon, Apple’s key manager who oversaw work on autonomous car hardware, left the company to join space and satellite startup Astra.

It’s not yet clear what impact this could have on Apple’s progress in delivering a commercially viable car.