Apple has received a permit to test autonomous cars in California, the first official confirmation that the maker of the iPhone sees the century-old automobile as a product that’s ripe for reinvention and a reflection of its need to find new markets to sustain its growth.
The California DMV updated its website on Friday, adding Apple’s name to 29 other companies testing self-driving vehicles in the state, including Tesla and Google.
The permit is confirmation that Apple has been quietly working on self-driving car technology, something that the company has not previously discussed in public or confirmed beyond an advisory letter to the NHTSA in December.
The DMV says that any manufacturer of autonomous technologies must apply to the California DMV before it can test a vehicle in autonomous mode on public roads.
“Today, April 14, 2017, California Department of Motor Vehicles issued Apple Inc. an autonomous vehicle test permit. The permit covers three vehicles, all 2015 Lexus RX450h, and six drivers,” a DMV spokeswoman told Business Insider.
Apple declined to comment about whether Apple is currently testing autonomous vehicles on public roads and pointed to a previous statement that it is “investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems.”
Silicon Valley and Detroit are engaged in a high-stakes race to develop self-driving cars, with companies like Google, Uber, Ford, Tesla and GM all working on autonomous vehicle technology. Prototype cars, with clunky radars, sensors and cameras rigged on the roofs and the sides, are a common sight on the streets of San Francisco.
And although there are still numerous technological, as well as political and regulatory obstacles to clear before self-driving cars become a widespread product for the masses, analysts believe the market will be worth tens of billions of dollars in the coming years.
Apple’s work in the automotive world is an open secret, but the company has never officially confirmed the existence of a project before Friday.
“It’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while,” Apple CEO Tim Cook once said in response to a question about the project.
Apple has what appears to be a mostly separate organization of 1000 employees working on what it calls “Project Titan” in Sunnyvale, California and other satellite offices. Apple has also been linked to a private course in California where secretive companies test self-driving cars.
Last year, the project hit some snags, though, and Apple was forced to bring on Bob Mansfield, a respected engineer, to cut back the scope of the project and set new goals, according to reporting from Bloomberg. Apple is believed be be primarily working on autonomous software, instead of a full car, but the project is still shrouded in secrecy.
Apple is expected to assess the progress it has made on self-driving cars at the end of this year, according to Bloomberg.
Have you seen one of Apple’s self-driving cars on the road or know anything about Apple’s automotive project? Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.