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Apple's Self-Driving Car Performance May Not Be So Bad After All

Apple's preliminary disengagement data for its self-driving car project surfaced yesterday pointing towards a high number of disengagements, and today, the DMV has shared the full disengagement reports from the company, providing more insight into Apple's autonomous car testing.

A disengagement report tracks the number of times an autonomous vehicle disengages and gives control back to a safety driver or the number of times the safety driver in the vehicle interferes.


Yesterday's information suggested Apple had the worst rank when it came to disengagements, but Apple has now provided details [PDF] explaining its disengagement reporting procedures and some changes that were made mid-year.

For the period between April 2017 and June 2018, Apple vehicles drove 24,604 miles autonomously and experienced 40,198 manual takeovers and 36,359 software disengagements, a number that is comparatively high based on disengagement reports from other companies.

As of July 2018, however, Apple stopped reporting its total number of disengagements and instead began focusing on "Important Disengagements," aka disengagements that might have resulted in a safety-related event (aka accident) or a violation of the rules of the road.

Using this metric, Apple vehicles have driven 56,135 miles since July 2018, with only 28 "Important Disengagements" reported. Two of these "Important Disengagements" were indeed minor collisions that weren't the fault of Apple's vehicles. One accident took place in August 2018 and the other was in October 2018.

Under Apple’s revised reporting threshold, the company’s cars experienced only one important disengagement every 2005 miles, compared to every 1.1 miles if the full data is counted. If other companies use similar thresholds to Apple’s new standard, Apple would rank much better.

Making direct comparisons between Apple's disengagement report and the results from other companies is difficult because there is no standard for reporting disengagements. It's up to each individual company to decide what constitutes a disengagement and what disengagements need to be reported.

It is clear, though, that Apple's vehicles are in the early stages of testing, as the company says itself in a DMV cover letter.

According to Apple, safety is its "highest priority" and its approach to disengagements is "conservative" because its system is not yet able to operate in "all conditions and situations."

Apple's testing parameters require drivers to proactively take manual control of a vehicle any time the system encounters a scenario beyond its current capabilities. The vehicle itself also self-monitors and returns control back to the driver when errors or issues are encountered.

Situations where drivers take over include the appearance of emergency vehicles, construction zones, or unexpected objects in the road, as Apple's vehicles cannot self-navigate these obstacles.

The autonomous software hands over control when it can't sufficiently track an object, is unable to generate a motion plan using the path planning system, when the vehicle systems don't respond as expected, and when there are communication issues.

Apple now has more than 62 vehicles out on the road, a number that will likely ramp up in 2019 as autonomous software testing continues. Apple is required to provide annual disengagement reports to the DMV, so we'll see the company's 2019 performance in early 2020, and will be able to look for improvements.

Related Roundup: Apple Car


Top Rated Comments

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10 weeks ago
This makes more sense. All the nonsense people came up with the earlier report.... including apple is doomed, steve turning in his graves, tim is a big fail etc etc...
Rating: 21 Votes
10 weeks ago

Apple Maps is not industry leader.

Siri is not industry leader.

If Apple can't lead on these, trying to twist the disengagement stats and trying to put Apple in a better light is not going to help anyone.

Stop dismissing the signs, Apple needs a huge wakeup call, switch up management, bring in new blood that has the tenacity and drive that Steve Jobs had, make Apple great again.


Somebody needs a wake up call and it isn’t Apple
Rating: 18 Votes
10 weeks ago
So much like iPhone unit sales, the numbers weren't good so we stopped reporting them.
Rating: 16 Votes
10 weeks ago
Apple Maps is not industry leader.

Siri is not industry leader.

If Apple can't lead on these, trying to twist the disengagement stats and trying to put Apple in a better light is not going to help anyone.

Stop dismissing the signs, Apple needs a huge wake up call, switch up management, bring in new blood that has the tenacity and drive that Steve Jobs had, make Apple great again.
Rating: 10 Votes
10 weeks ago
I'm just going to leave this here...written here in the 'older' thread on this subject...

As a professional engineer in a different field, another factor that could be at play: the tolerance of the system to disengage will be different in each product.

Haters love to hate.

Rating: 9 Votes
10 weeks ago

So much like iPhone unit sales, the numbers weren't good so we stopped reporting them.

They were at least 4 years late on that one. Samsung stopped reporting long ago and the others never reported. Why subject yourself to unnecessary scrutiny when you make 30 times more profit in a quarter than tech darlin’ Amazon and actually have proven you know how to transition to new markets with relative ease. Amazon doesn’t report unit sales either by the way.
Rating: 7 Votes
10 weeks ago
I tried telling people the data was meaningless without context.

We still don't have enough context.
Rating: 6 Votes
10 weeks ago

So much like iPhone unit sales, the numbers weren't good so we stopped reporting them.

If only you or any of us had any idea what those numbers even mean.

But let that not stop us from posting cleverly about them.
Rating: 5 Votes
10 weeks ago
The statistic I'd be most interested in is the number of accidents or near-accidents for a self-driving car versus the number for a comparable number of miles driven in a regular car by an average driver.

I don't expect that self-driving cars will ever be absolute perfect, but I'd like to know when they're better, on average, than we humans are.
Rating: 5 Votes
10 weeks ago
This is even worse news. If the car is making disengagements for non safety reasons that means it can't drive in a straight line?
Rating: 4 Votes

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