×

YouTuber Mark Rober Secretly Develops VR for Self-Driving Cars for Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

Mark Rober, who is best known for his YouTube videos of spectacular science stunts, has been quietly working as an engineer for Apple’s secretive special projects group, Variety has learned. Rober’s work for Apple includes contributions to the company’s virtual reality projects, with a focus on using VR as on-board entertainment for self-driving cars.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment when contacted for this story. Rober didn’t immediately respond to a requests for comment.

Rober, who has close to 3.4 million YouTube followers and has been an occasional guest on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” changed jobs in the summer of 2015, according to his Linkedin profile. The profile currently states that he has been working as a product design engineer at an unnamed company ever since.

In a Reddit AmA, Rober told fans a year ago that he was working at “a large tech company in the Bay Area.” He declined to name the company, saying that he was asked not to, but added: “I work on the team formulating products that haven’t been released.”

Some patent applications filed by Apple this spring give us an idea of what Rober has been working on: In March, Apple filed a patent application for an “immersive virtual display” as well as one for an “augmented virtual display.” Both describe VR systems that could be used by passengers of self-driving cars, who ostensibly weren’t needed to observe traffic anymore.

Apple VR patent application
CREDIT: Courtesy of Apple

From Apple’s patent application for an “augmented virtual display.”

Apple has been vocal about its interest in augmented reality (AR), and released a framework for phone-based AR dubbed ARKit last year. The company has been much quieter on virtual reality, as well as plans to bring either of those technologies to future headsets. Cnet reported in April that Apple was working on a headset that would combine both AR and VR, with a goal of shipping the device in 2020.

Apple’s AR/VR efforts and its work on autonomous cars have long been closely related. Case in point: Munich-based AR startup Metaio, which Apple acquired in 2015, had been working with several car manufacturers, including Audi, BMW and Ferrari. However, Apple reportedly scaled back its autonomous vehicle efforts last year, and more recently focused on partnerships with vehicle makers to build on-campus transportation for its own employees.

Apple VR patent
CREDIT: Courtesy of Apple

From Apple’s patent application for an “augmented virtual display.”

Interestingly, Apple has apparently been thinking about ways to integrate real-world data from vehicles into the VR experience. From the patent application for an augmented virtual display:

“Embodiments of the VR system may provide enhanced immersive virtual experiences to passengers in moving vehicles that are not achievable in conventional stationary VR systems. Integrating the VR system with a vehicle in motion provides opportunities for enhancing virtual experiences that are not available while sitting in a room using a stationary simulator or wearing a (VR headset). For example, accelerations and motions in a virtual experience can be matched to or enhanced by accelerations and motions of the vehicle, and thus do not have to be simulated using gravity vectors as in a stationary simulator.”

Apple VR patent application
CREDIT: Courtesy of Apple

From Apple’s patent application for an “augmented virtual display.”

The patent application also mentions the possibility of incorporating social VR as well as virtual avatars into a in-vehicle experience: “For example, a virtual representation of an author or talk show host may appear to be sitting in the seat next to the passenger; the virtual author may be reading one of their books to the passenger, or the virtual talk show host may be hosting their show from the seat next to the passenger, with their voices provided through the audio system. As another example, the passenger may experience riding on a flatbed truck with a band playing a gig on the flatbed, with the band’s music provide (sic) through the audio system.”

And while Rober’s Apple patent applications  are primarily focusing on VR for autonomous cars, a lot of the technology described could also be used for VR in other contexts. For instance, the “augmented virtual display” patent application describes ways to combine virtual TV screens, e-books and other content in VR while at the same time still providing real-world visual cues — something that could be essential to any attempt to build a headset that combines AR and VR, whether it is used in a moving vehicle or not.

More Digital

  • How Netflix Uses Technology: A Look

    How Netflix Wants to Take on Its Competition in 2019 and Beyond

    “They’re going to do some great shows. I’m going to be envious.” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings practiced humility when he was asked about new competitors like Disney’s and Apple’s upcoming streaming services this week. “These are amazing, large, well-funded companies with very significant efforts,” he said. “But you do your best job when you have [...]

  • AVOD streaming video OTT users -

    Comcast Unveils 'Flex,' a Streaming Service for Internet Customers

    Comcast said it would unveil “Flex,” a hub for its Internet-only customers that allows them to stream and purchase shows and movies, the latest effort by a traditional cable provider to latch on to customers who are migrating to broadband services, The Philadelphia cable giant will also make free, ad-supported services available via the service, [...]

  • splice

    Splice Raises $57.5 Million in Latest Funding Round

    Splice, a favorite of music creators that allows access to a library of three million rights-cleared sounds, announced today that the company closed a Series C funding round at $57.5 million. That brings Splice’s total amount raised to roughly $102 million since its launch in 2013. It raised a Series B in November of 2017. [...]

  • Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime

    Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime Emmy Nomination

    Facebook is now in the awards hunt: Its popular original series “Red Table Talk” hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith was nominated for a 2019 Daytime Emmy. It appears to be the first-ever Daytime Emmy Awards nomination for a Facebook-funded show, although a company rep was unable to confirm that. “Red Table Talk” is nominated in [...]

  • MLB-TV

    MLB.TV Joins Lineup on Amazon's Prime Video Channels

    Amazon has launched MLB.TV on Prime Video Channels for Prime members in the U.S., just in time for the start of Major League Baseball’s 2019 regular season start next week. The MLB.TV package provides regular-season out-of-market baseball games, both live and on-demand. Prime members in the U.S. can subscribe to MLB.TV for $24.99 per month, [...]

  • Tencent Music Shares Drop Despite Solid

    Tencent Music Shares Drop Despite Solid First Earnings Report

    Proving that good is not always good enough, Tencent Music Entertainment shares fell 9 percent after the Chinese company released its 2018 earnings, wiping out $2.7 billion in market capitalization of what is arguably the biggest audio music service in the world. Chalk it up to big expectations and a short track record: Wednesday’s earnings [...]

  • PewDiePie - YouTube

    PewDiePie vs. T-Series: YouTube Channels Keep Battling for No. 1 Spot

    UPDATED, 3/21: The back-and-forth competition for YouTube’s No. 1 spot continues. T-Series on Thursday again pulled ahead of YouTube’s PewDiePie as the No. 1 most-subscribed channel on the platform — but again the vlogger-gamer-comedian fans’ rallied behind him to retake the position. In a months-long symbolic running battle for the title, PewDiePie and his fans have [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content