Apple, Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has received a California permit to test autonomous cars. This action makes transparent Apple’s intentions to join Tesla and other automakers in the race to making self-driving technology a common feature on U.S. vehicles.
On Friday, April 15, the California Department of Motor Vehicles added Apple to its list of 29 other innovators who will be testing self-driving vehicles in the Golden State. The company will be using three 2015 Lexus RX 450h luxury hybrid sport utility vehicles during testing. The six drivers who have been given permission to conduct the testing must be present to disengage the autonomous-driving software if necessary.
The announcement that Apple will join the self-driving game comes after much speculation about the company’s self-driving initiatives. Up to this point, Apple has declined to acknowledge formally its autonomous technology R&D beyond an advisory letter to the NHTSA in December, 2016, which Apple used as an opportunity to offer input on the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. If anything, the company has been evasive, with comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook such as, “It’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while,” which came in response to a query Apple’s intentions to invest in self-driving technology. According to the New York Times, he also told an investors group in October that Apple recognizes that “there are a lot of technologies that will either become available or will be able to revolutionize the car experience.”
As part of its convoluted media public relations, Apple previously said it is “investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems.”
In January, Tesla hired Apple’s Chris Lattner, who had been credited with developing Apple’s Swift programming language. He now holds the position of Vice President of Autopilot Software at Tesla and has expressed that he found the opportunity to dive into a completely new area and work with the Tesla Autopilot team “irresistible.”
Of course, the tech world has been watching over the last two years as Apple aggressively poached top engineers from Tesla and other major auto manufacturers. Rumors abounded that Apple was searching Silicon Valley for 800,000 square-foot of new space to support a self-driving testing facility north of San Francisco. As early as 2015, we at Teslarati wrote about Apple’s Project Titan and the company’s decision then to expand its employee size on its Sunnyvale, California campus and other satellites.
It seems clear now that Apple has veered away from original plans to manufacture its own vehicles and will, instead, provide appropriate transportation technologies like self-driving software. Certainly, having a place in the autonomous vehicle market will help Apple to expand its catalog of technology products, which includes the groundbreaking iPhone.