Apple Now Has 55 Permits for Testing Autonomous Vehicles

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【Summary】Roughly two years ago, the company’s plans started to take shape when it tapped Torc Robotics to install sensors used for autonomous driving on two Lexus SUVs (project Baja).

Michael Cheng    May 27, 2018 10:15 AM PT
Apple Now Has 55 Permits for Testing Autonomous Vehicles

Apple's presence in the self-driving sector is slowly building. In California, the tech giant is expanding its fleet of autonomous cars. At the moment, the company holds 55 permits to test driverless vehicles – compared to last year, when it only had three.

Such developments, coupled with sightings of Apple's prototypes, consisting of customized Lexus vehicles, confirms the company's deep interest in the technology.

Apple and Autonomous Vehicles

Rumors about Apple's plans to develop a driverless car have taken a backseat. Many now believe the business will instead build autonomous driving systems and software. Such possibilities would be less risky for Apple, which already has an in-car entertainment platform (Apple CarPlay).

Roughly two years ago, the company's plans started to take shape when it tapped Torc Robotics to install sensors used for autonomous driving on two Lexus SUVs (project Baja). To date, Apple's fleet consists of more than 50 vehicles, which are heavily used for data collection and testing driverless maneuvers. Interestingly, the business did not offer Lexus an official partnership.

"The current belief is that rather than offer the public an ‘Apple car,' it will license its self-driving car technology to other manufacturers, something that seems a little different for Apple, a company that is known for keeping a tight leash on its intellectual property and closely controlling its image," said CBS Los Angeles.

The latest news that supports Apple's intentions comes from an eye-opening deal with German automaker Volkswagen (codenamed Jetstream). The two groups recently signed a deal, which would convert T6 Transporter vans into autonomous shuttles for Apple's workers.

Previously, the tech company sought agreements with BMW and Mercedes-Benz (codenamed Bruce) for the development of an electrified, self-driving car. The partnerships never materialized, reportedly due to strict guidelines from Apple, requesting control over data and design aspects of the projects.

According to Jack Nicas from The New York Times, the company also considered forming partnerships with China's BYD Auto, Nissan Japan and McLaren.

Overview of Permit Holders in California

California is quickly becoming a hotspot for automakers testing driverless vehicles. At the top of the list, General Motors has 104 registered autonomous cars on California roads. Google's Waymo has 51 prototypes, next to Tesla, which has 39 registered self-driving units.

The local DMV has issued a total of 403 permits for autonomous vehicles and 1,573 permits for safety drivers to oversee the trials. When it comes to approved safety drivers, General Motors leads the group again, with 407 registered operators. Waymo comes in second with 338 registered human drivers, while Apple ranks third with 83 official safety drivers.

"In total, the DMV has provided to 53 companies permits for self-driving cars that include safety drivers, resulting in a total of 409 vehicles and 1,573 safety drivers," cited Megan Rose Dickey from TechCrunch.

It is important to note that prior to receiving a permit, the prototypes must meet the standards of an SAE-L4 or SAE-L5 autonomous car. The state's DMV revealed it is working on reviewing two permit applications.

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