Sun, Apr 16, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Apple allowed to test self-driving cars

PROJECT TITAN:Independent analyst Neil Cybart said Apple seems to have shifted gears toward developing a ‘transportation platform’ rather than manufacturing cars

NY Times News Service, SAN FRANCISCO

Apple Inc plans to start testing self-driving cars on California roads, the clearest signal yet that the world’s most valuable technology company wants to design or build autonomous vehicle technology.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Friday granted Apple a test permit that the agency said would allow the company to test autonomous driving technology in three 2015 Lexus RX 450h luxury hybrid SUVs. The permit authorizes six drivers to take control of the vehicles when necessary.

Apple has been coy about its self-driving car project, known internally as Project Titan.

The iPhone maker has not officially acknowledged the existence of the project, which appeared to be adrift last year.

It laid off dozens of people in the fall and brought in one of its top troubleshooters, Bob Mansfield, to reinvigorate the effort.

“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,” Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook told investors in October last year.

Neil Cybart, an independent analyst who writes about Apple at the Web site Above Avalon, said the company appeared to have moved away from plans to build and sell cars like Tesla Motors Inc does.

Instead, he said, “they are working on a transportation platform.”

Apple declined to comment on the California permit or on its broader automotive plans, instead referring to a statement released in December last year, when it submitted comments about autonomous vehicle technology to the US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive and more personal. 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,” the company said in the comments.

The self-driving car segment is among the most bitterly contested areas in emerging technology, with Apple joining 29 other companies that have received test permits in California alone.

Google considers self-driving cars to be a potential new market, while Uber Technologies Inc hopes to eventually eliminate the need for human drivers for its service.

Traditional automakers like General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co view the self-driving car as a natural extension of their businesses.

Start-ups are also vying to enter the market: Udacity Inc — an online education company cofounded by a pioneer of Google’s self-driving car initiative — is building an open-source autonomous car and offers a training course to people who want to become self-driving car engineers.

“Every company will have to have some solution for transportation,” Cybart said.

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