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Apple testing AR-based car navigation and self-driving software with virtual reality rigs - report

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A fresh report about Apple's automotive ambitions claims that the company is continuing its shift away from building a whole car, and is instead developing software for self-driving vehicles, with recent hires being funneled into the effort.

According to Bloomberg sources familiar with the matter, Apple has hired away many engineers from BlackBerry's QNX project to work on the new Apple initiative. Now based on Kanata, an Ottawa suburb, the effort is said to be focusing on self-driving cars, with an augmented reality (AR) heads-up display integrating apps manipulatable by Siri and other hands-off technologies.

The testing of the prototypes is allegedly being performed in virtual reality (VR) simulators. The VR test rigs would allow Apple to evaluate new software behind closed doors, and to avoid taking prototypes onto public roads.

"We're in a global world of big technology companies fighting for talent," said BlackBerry's chief operating officer Marty Beard to Bloomberg, when asked about the recent departures of QNX personnel. "It's not surprising."

Key personnel said to be tied to the initiative in Canada are ex-QNX CEO Dan Dodge, and senior engineer Derrick Keefe.

Synchronicity between Apple's Car, AR, and VR ambitions

In September, Apple was rumored to have fired dozens of employees involved with Project Titan, with suggestions that the company was shifting to a more software-focused vision of the future of automobiles, rather than an Apple-produced bumper-to-bumper solution.

Regarding Apple's VR and AR ambitions, during Apple's January's quarterly report question and answer session, Cook said that VR was "cool" and noted that he didn't think it was a niche, but at the time he had little to say about its future at Apple.

"AR can be really great," Cook said in July's post-earnings report conference call. "We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR for the long run, we think there's great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity. So we're investing."

In a Washington Post interview in August, Cook said that "I think AR is extremely interesting and sort of a core technology," adding that "it's something we're doing a lot of things on behind that curtain."