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Apple Now Has a Permit to Test Self-Driving Cars in California

The permit means that Apple may have to be less secretive about their autonomous driving efforts in the near future.

With Google (through Waymo), Tesla, and Uber pushing hard into autonomous driving systems and Samsung getting into the game by buying Harman, Apple’s been conspicuously absent from the self-driving car race. That hasn’t stopped rumors from flying about their super secret autonomous driving plans — plans that might be coming into the light soon. It’s been discovered that Apple has recently received a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California.

Last week, Business Insider learned that Apple had received the permit on April 14, which allows them to operate autonomous vehicles in California as long as there’s a driver in the car ready to take over. As per usual, Apple hasn’t commented directly on the news, and their plans remain secret. But, the permit requires public reports of miles driven and how many times the human driver had to take over, meaning Apple won’t be able to keep things totally under wraps for much longer.

But, the permit does contain one nugget of information. As has been widely assumed, it’s unlikely that Apple is actually building their own car. The permit covers three modified 2015 Lexus RX450h vehicles and six drivers licensed to operate them. While that doesn’t preclude Apple from building their own car in the future, it’s far more likely that Apple will focus on developing autonomous driving software, leaving the car manufacturing to automotive partners that already have the production infrastructure in place. Similarly, the autonomous vehicles Uber is testing are actually Volvo XC90 SUVs, although their program has recently been suspended following a collision in Arizona and is on the wrong end of a lawsuit involving Waymo over stolen technology.

While Tesla is a good example of a tech company that was able to secure its own automobile manufacturing infrastructure, Tesla had built its business around cars from the start. It might not make sense for Apple to take the same approach — Tesla’s car sales are relatively small compared to automotive giants, and it’s hard to see why Apple wouldn’t chase a larger market by focusing on software and services.

But, that’s just speculation, which will continue to fill the vacuum of information as Apple leaves everyone in the dark about their plans. All that seems to be known is that the project has been dubbed ‘Project Titan.’ However, Tim Cook did tacitly confirm the development of autonomous driving tech by saying “it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while” when asked about Apple’s automotive plans at last year’s shareholders meeting.

Via Business Insider