Apple has announced that it has secured a self-driving road test permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It is reported that the new permit will allow Apple and its six permitted drivers to test its new technology in three Lexus RX 450h models.
This represents the first direct indication of the technology giant’s intentions with regards to autonomous driving vehicles. Before this move, Apple had stayed very quiet about its intentions; the only hint of its direction of travel being when it filed for patent number 20160358485 at the US Patent & Trademark Office. The patent was for computer graphics software called “Collision Avoidance Of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles,” describing techniques that “use simple geometry to identify which edges of which obstacles an agent is most likely to collide.” The idea is that if the vehicle highlights what objects it might crash into, it calculates the “avoidance force” needed to avoid potential impacts.
However last October, CEO Tim Cook told investors,
“We are always looking at new things, and the car space, in general, is an area that it’s clear that there are a lot of technologies that will either become available or will be able to revolutionize the car experience.”
Then late last year, Apple submitted a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in which it said that it was “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.” At the time, it was seen as the strongest hint that Apple was still committed to self-driving technology.
Whether Apple is actively testing autonomous vehicles, though, remains to be seen. Many companies sign up for the permit, but report no miles driven.
Not unexpectedly, an Apple spokesperson declined to comment about the permit, referring instead to the company’s statement from December when it submitted its letter to the federal government. That statement read,
“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 now joins 29 other automotive and tech companies who have received test permits in California for self-driving technology.