We've been hearing that Apple was quietly getting into the self-driving car game since early 2015, and in August of that year, we learned they had already sought out a testing site in Contra Costa County. Last fall, Apple shut down parts of their self-driving car program and had some layoffs, but this week, as Gizmodo reports, there's evidence that they're still in the game.
As of today, Apple Inc. joins the list of 30 companies that the California DMV has issued testing permits to for autonomous vehicles to be driven on public roads. All the companies, which include Uber, Tesla, Google and auto makers Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Subaru, BMW, Ford, and Honda, have to submit accident reports and annual reports to the DMV but as of January 1 of this year, only seven of the companies had been permitted long enough to have to submit annual reports.
As Gizmodo notes, the permit does not necessarily mean that Apple is going to give us an Apple Car, it just means that they're still trying to develop the autonomous-driving technology that all these other companies are also racing to develop.
We heard back in September that Apple was in talks, possibly, to acquire high-end carmaker McLaren, but not long after that rumor went out, The Hustle pointed out that Apple was likely more interested in McLaren’s consulting firm, McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT), probably for the brain trust that is there when it comes to developing new vehicle technologies. Nothing further was reported on that deal, and Apple had just two months before hired Dan Dodge, the founder and former CEO of QNX, a software company that specializes in "microkernel" operating systems and integrated driving and info-tainment systems which are used in multiple high-end vehicle brands including Audi, Jaguar, and Mercedez Benz. So, despite laying off or reassigning "hundreds" of people who had been working on the secretive Project Titan car project, Apple seems to have perhaps just pivoted and may be interested in developing its own version of a self-driving apparatus that they can then sell to other companies.
But it's weird, isn't it, that a computer company that has made forays into entertainment in the last decade and has also become a telecom giant with the iPhone now wants to be a self-driving car company too? I guess if they count Google as a primary competitor in other realms, they may as well compete in this one too.
Apple’s director of product integrity, Steve Kenner, wrote a letter in November to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asking that "new warrants" in the self-driving car field be granted the same testing privileges as "established manufacturers." And Kenner wrote, "The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation." This suggests, as Gizmodo says, that Apple is likely more interested in keeping up with the technology itself than in actually producing a car.
But we shall see.