Competitor gets a close-up look at Apple's self-driving car tech

Apple has been very secretive about its self-driving car project, but that hasn’t kept one of its competitors from getting a close-up look at the company’s technology.

MacCallister Higgins, founder of autonomous car startup Voyage, got a close look at what appears to be one of Apple’s test cars that was stopped at an intersection on a California street and posted a video of it to Twitter.

The Lexus RX SUV was fitted with a rooftop sensor system that features 12 small LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) pucks, several cameras and a radar to scan its surroundings. By contrast, Waymo’s latest prototypes use a single large LIDAR in addition to cameras and radar.

One of MacCallister’s followers estimated the cost of the LIDAR pucks alone to be $96,000. Most of today’s self-driving car efforts use LIDAR to look for obstacles, although Tesla claims it will be able to deliver autonomous capability with just cameras and radar, reducing cost and complexity.

MacCallister noted that Apple’s system appeared to be entirely contained within the rooftop unit, while prototype systems are typically connected to computer modules packed inside a vehicle. That presumably includes his company’s, which are currently being tested as shuttle vehicles in a retirement community.

Although details of the Apple project are still largely under wraps, CEO Tim Cook has indicated that the company is more interested in developing the software and other underlying technologies that will enable self-driving cars, rather than planning to build a vehicle itself.