Apple has a secret lab to change the world


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Like all tech giants, Apple relies heavily on R&D. Mark Gurman recently revealed the existence of a secret unit focused on long-term research and development, with almost unlimited resources.

According to a famous professor of archeology, “An X has never, ever marked the location [d’un trésor] ». Nevertheless, X, Google’s almost secret laboratory, has been the start of many great projects that aim to change the world a little… or a lot. We remember Google Glass, of course, but also Loon, the stratospheric balloons that have the ambition to connect the most remote areas of the world to the Internet. This imposes and gilds the coat of arms of a company which additionally has made most of its fortune from your data and the advertisements served to you online.

According to Mark Gurman, journalist for Bloomberg, Apple would also have its X, a secret lab to develop inventions of a different kind, but which could just as easily change the lives of many users. baptized Exploratory design group, or XDG for short, this lab, founded when Steve Jobs was still running Apple, works on long-term projects. For a long time it was run by Bill Athas, one of the few tech guys Apple, which died late last year. The discreet leader was regarded by Steve Jobs and Tim Cook as one of the company’s most brilliant engineers. The team depends on the Hardware Technologies group, led by Johny Srouji, and works in a building on Tantau Avenue, which borders the eastern flank of Apple Park. Since the death of his boss, the team has been led by former lieutenants of Bill Athas.

Interesting detail, Mark Gurman explains that the Exploratory Design Group operates like a start-up within Apple, with a compact workforce of just 100 people, which is not much compared to the more than 1,000 employees of the Technology Development Group, who are assigned to the development of the mixed reality headset, which Apple could announce in June.

A small revolution for diabetics

One of XDG’s most advanced projects is a system that would measure a user’s blood sugar without having to take a drop of blood. This great work, internally called sober E5, is said to have recently passed decisive stages. Instead of drawing some blood, Apple would use a photonic chip and apply optical absorption spectroscopy. By using lasers projected into a subcutaneous area, for example on the wrist and from a watch, it would be possible to measure the concentration of glucose, thanks to a specially designed algorithm.

Given the progress made, Apple believes it will be able to integrate its sensor into its connected watch in the more or less near future. The addition of this feature would allow the US giant to position its Watch even more as an essential cog in monitoring the health of its users. Either way, if the process is viable and validated by national health authorities, it could make a big difference to the lives of diabetics who need to measure their blood sugar levels regularly.

A small team for a big future

However, this project wouldn’t be the only one the XDG team would be working on, subscribing to long-term work. For example, according to Mark Gurman, Apple’s secret laboratory would work on a wide variety of topics: a new generation of displays, artificial intelligence or even functions for virtual or augmented reality helmets.

Originally, the team led by the late Bill Athas would have looked at energy-efficient processors, says the journalist Bloomberg. The performance per Watt of Apple Silicon chips (A and M series) seems to prove that the job was done. But the Athas teams would also do deep work “new generation batteries”. A project that is still ongoing.

Although the workforce is relatively small, the XDG would have access to it “huge financial resources and great freedom to explore an unlimited number of ideas”. Better, to ensure the research escapes calendar restrictions, Apple lab members would be assigned to work on projects until they arrive at “determining whether an idea is viable or not”. The journalist from Bloomberg explains that, however, this research is not detached from reality and that many of their projects have already taken place in Apple products, whether iPhones, iPads or even Macs.

The secret of the secret

Anyway, it’s interesting to see the existence of this lab come into being “even more secret than Google’s”. There’s no question that Apple invested heavily in R&D: its budget for the first fiscal quarter of 2023 alone was just over $7.7 billion, compared to $6.3 billion for the year-earlier quarter.

Knowing that Apple has created some sort of dedicated research unit, however, lends substance to the group’s vision and ambition. A secret laboratory working to purify the future… in the greatest secrecy. Because, apparently, even with so few staff and even in a special division, the cult of secrecy that Apple holds dear is in order. Thus, each team working on a project would be isolated and separated from the others – with engineers prohibited from discussing their work with their colleagues… The price to be paid for being part of the future, so it seems. Because that’s what it’s all about. Under the California sun, in a building nestled in a corner of Apple Park and overlooking Tantau Avenue, a stone’s throw from the spaceship that serves as Apple’s headquarters, this is the future of the products of the Cupertino giant . What are these researchers inventing… The story does not say whether there is a pirate flag flying on the building.

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