Apple Inc. will soon take its self-driving car software platform to public streets for the first time, a major step that gets the world’s largest technology company into a crowded race to reshape transportation.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles granted clearance for trials of the autonomous driving technology on public roads, according to a notice on the DMV’s website. This is the first time Apple has received approval for such testing.
The software tests will start soon with existing vehicles, according to a person familiar with the matter. They asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. Cupertino, California-based Apple started designing a self-driving car to take on Google and Tesla Inc. a few years ago before it pulled back and focused on first developing underlying autonomous technology last year, Bloomberg News has reported.
The tests are the clearest, public sign yet that Apple is serious about a nascent field that could, in time, transform mobility and upend the auto industry. A quarter of all miles driven in the U.S. may be traveled in shared, self-driving electric cars by the end of the next decade, Boston Consulting Group said this month. Apple wants a piece of this action, but it’s got a lot of competition: 29 other companies have autonomous vehicle testing permits in California.
Subject to standard regulations for testing autonomous technology on public roads, Apple’s test cars will have a person behind the wheel to monitor the testing. The California permit covers three 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs, and six drivers, the DMV said. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving test cars also have people behind the wheel during tests.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment beyond a statement issued in December when the company filed paperwork with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding safety practices for self-driving cars. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry,” Apple said at the time.
The DMV’s website was updated Friday [April 14] to acknowledge Apple becoming a permit holder. A March 30 copy of the website does not list Apple as having approval, indicating it was granted within the last two weeks. The permit requires companies to disclose traffic incidents related to their testing within 10 business days of the event.
Apple’s self-driving technology is being developed in secret company offices in Sunnyvale, California, a short drive from its main Cupertino campus, Bloomberg News has reported. The company also has a team in Canada working on a car operating system that would power the platform, people familiar with the matter have said.
The self-driving car platform is designed so that Apple could choose to open it up to existing carmakers or eventually port it to an Apple-designed vehicle. Apple began to focus more on the self-driving technology last year after re-hiring former hardware executive Bob Mansfield to lead the project. Apple aims to decide on the final direction of the platform by fall of this year, Bloomberg News has reported.
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