We investigate the great mystery.
Google, Uber, Tesla, Toyota, and so many other interested parties have a dog in the self-driving car fight, but one long-time competitor seems to be taking their time about getting out on the roads. Apple has been on again, off again with its efforts, fooling industry watchers at every turn. First it was road-worthy licensing and “leaked” pictures of a vehicle in operation, then came the reports that the company may only be providing software and other tech to automakers.
So which is it?
Perhaps a combination of both, according to different sources. First, Apple has slightly more than doubled its fleet of autonomous vehicles since January, meaning some serious money is being invested in ramping up its efforts. With the additional vehicles bringing the total number to 55, someone has to “drive” the things; Apple also increased its number of drivers to 83 this year.
According to a CBS report, Apple has also secured the necessary documents to test its vehicles: “California requires all companies performing autonomous vehicle testing within its boundaries to submit what is called a ‘Vehicle Disengagement Report’ that outlines both the number of times that a human driver had to intervene and wrest control from the car, and the circumstances surrounding these interventions, aka disengagements. Apple only received its permit to test in April of 2017, and thus doesn’t have to file one until January of 2019.”
Still a mystery?
However, those documents are required for any type of research within the scope of self-driving vehicles. Theoretically, Apple could be testing a new responsive cup holder, and they would still need the proper permit and disengagement report on file. That only means that Apple is working within the self-driving sphere (which everyone knew), but not what they’re doing with it.
For now, the smart money is still on Apple having “something” to do with autonomous tech, namely providing the software to automakers. A limited number of fleet vehicles and drivers would be needed for testing purposes, without having to invest in factory lines to assemble them. In the past, Apple has made it clear that “reinventing the wheel” (pun intended) by attempting to manufacture the physical vehicles when key players have been perfecting that process for over a century isn’t a smart investment.