Apple Has An Official Permit To Test Self-Driving Cars In California

For years rumors have been circulating that Apple has been working on autonomous car technology. Much like their competitor, Alphabet, Inc., Apple is known as an innovator in the technology sector.

In late November 2016, Apple revealed that they were “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation” in a letter they submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

It’s exciting to think about the possibles if Apple is producing self-driving car technology. However, just because they possess a permit doesn’t necessarily mean they are testing autonomous vehicles.

In fact, several companies have permits to test autonomous car technology, but they don’t perform actual tests.

What Does The California Permit Mean?

While their permit to test autonomous vehicles in California does not prove Apple is actively researching autonomous car technology, it does show their interest in this area of technology.

The permit itself tells us very little about the current technology and capabilities of their autonomous car program, but it does say that they are working with 2015 Lexus RX450h vehicles according to the DMV report. This is a similar vehicle make and model that Google uses to conduct their autonomous car tests in California.

The permit is not a clear connection to what Apple is doing with the technology, but it does show that they are still toying around with advanced technology in the autonomous sector in some capacity. The permit could signal that Apple is working with software or other image processing technology to assist in the operation of an autonomous car.

The permit could signal that Apple is working with software or other image processing technology to assist in the operation of an autonomous car.

From the standpoint of their business interests and capabilities it would make much more sense that Apple is conducting tests to develop software and other support systems rather than building physical cars.

Apple has already invested heavily in machine learning and automation. Instead of starting from scratch Apple could rely on their advanced knowledge of computing operations and sourcing that they already implement in their core products like the iPhone, iPads, and computers.Along with sourcing

Along with sourcing specialties, Apple also has a breadth of knowledge on the software side of computing as they are a leader in computer learning as it applies to programs like the AppStore.

Not Apple’s First Pass At Autonomous Cars

Speculation around Apple’s involvement in developing and testing self-driving technology has long been a staple in the tech community. Apple has done a good job at keeping their intentions under wraps, and the ambiguity surrounding their projects has resulted in some names circulating their plans including the “Apple Car,” “the iCar,” and “Project Titan.”

Some predicted that Apple would leverage their connections with manufacturers to develop a physical driving car much like Tesla or traditional companies like Ford. Others said Apple would focus on software and other systems to control a vehicle. One advantage that Apple has over their competition is that they know how to produce amazing software. This experience can help with developing technology to interact with traditional traffic equipment like traffic cones and other signals. This will give them a great competitive advantage when getting their cars on the road.

California Is The National Testing Ground For Self-Driving Technology

California is one of the leading states when it comes to allowing companies to test their autonomous car technologies on state roads. In recent past, self-driving cars entered the spotlight when Uber clashes with California DMV over the need for a permit to operate self-driving vehicles on public roads.

In December 2016, California became the second state to offer Uber services from self-driving cars. However, the only problem was that Uber failed to secure proper documentation and permits to perform these tests.

In response, the California DMV voiced concern over the illegal testing of autonomous technology on their streets. Over twenty other companies working on self-driving technology have received proper permits and documentations for the California DMV to test on public streets. Among the household names include:

  • Google
  • Tesla
  • BMW
  • Honda
  • Ford
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Nissan
  • GM

Autonomous Technology And State Regulations

As the technology for self-driving cars advances at record speeds, so does the realization for how autonomous technology will impact our cities, our environment, and how our cities are developed.

We are witnessing the evolution of a technology sector unlike any we have experienced in the past. Each year the number of states considering the political and legal ramifications of autonomous car technology on public streets increases, including:

  • In 2017, 32 states have introduced legislation concerning the development, testing, or regulation of autonomous cars on public roads
  • 2015 saw 16 states pass legislation, up from 12 states in 2014, and only nine states and D.C. in 2013. This rise in regulation shows the interest and concern around self-driving cars are increasing at a rapid pace.
  • Twelve states including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia—and Washington D.C. have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles.

Why California Matters For Autonomous Car Technology Testing

All of the major players in the autonomous car industry have their private testing grounds to develop and improve their self-driving technology. However, real advancement will only come with tests in the real world.

California holds a particular position in the development of autonomous technology testing as the home of Silicon Valley. Many of the major players in the self-driving car industry are based, or have a significant presence in California.

Their proximity to the advancement of self-driving car technology means that the California DMV has a big part in the conversation of policy and regulation that is shaping the future of autonomous technology.

Federal regulators are eager to advance technology to help relieve drivers of the duties and obligations that come with operating a vehicle.

Another Player Entering A Troubled Legislative Field

California is one of the leading states for adopting and testing the autonomous technology on public roads. While over 20 companies currently hold permits to test self-driving cars in public areas, there have been several high-profile incidents that have raised the debate of public safety and the advancement of technology.

Soon after launching their test program in California, Uber found themselves involved with the legal side of their self-driving car program. In December 2016 one of Uber’s self-driving Volvos ran a red light with a pedestrian starting to cross in the crosswalk.

The incident was captured on video and soon become a viral hit, with many opponents to self-driving technology pointing to it as proof that our technological advancements are putting public health at risk.

Uber was not the only company with vehicles involved in road incidents. A Tesla in Autopilot mode and one of Google’s self-driving vehicles were also involved in similar crashes recently.

Autonomous Car Technology Advancing Into The Future

The dream of autonomous technology promises to reduce the number of accidents and improve public safety. However, this technology is yet to be perfected, and in the meantime, we will need to rely on legislation to protect the public interest while also providing an opportunity for this technology to advance.

Apple is showing their continued interest in autonomous cars. By securing the permit from the California DMV, the future of self-driving cars sees renewed interest in the development and implementation of this technology.

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Author: Chris Giarratana

Chris is a Digital Media Strategy Consultant in Orlando, FL who specializes in developing marketing strategies for small businesses, researching emerging technologies, and enjoys studying transportation issues.

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