California has truly opened the floodgates. We’re not talking about Governor Jerry Brown’s recent announcement regarding the end of the drought emergency. Rather, we’re referring to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ decision to grant Apple an autonomous vehicle testing permit in April, allowing the company to use California’s public highways in testing self-driving technology.
Apple certainly wasted no time in taking advantage of that permit, as just a couple weeks later, a white Lexus RX450h SUV was seen exiting an Apple facility decked out with sensors, per an eyewitness who provided photographic evidence to Bloomberg. According to Bloomberg, the sensors seen included, “Velodyne Lidar Inc.’s top-of-the-range 64-channel lidar, at least two radar, and a series of cameras.” Apple did not comment on the photos.
Apple joins the ranks of numerous competitors also seeking to produce autonomous vehicles en masse — Alphabet, Tesla, and Uber all already have permission from California to conduct their own tests.
This marks the first time the company was given a permit for its autonomous cars and suggests it is well on its way to expanding its horizons. Soon, its hardware could be decidedly larger than the laptops and phones we’ve become so accustomed to. The permit allows Apple to test three 2015 Lexus sport-utility vehicles, all of which would be retrofitted with the necessary hardware and software that would allow them to operate without a driver. That said, the permit requires human operators to be present whenever the cars are on the road.
While Apple has been consistently cagey about its plans to delve into self-driving territory, the company penned a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year offering its support for autonomous technology. But even now, the firm is remaining tight-lipped — an Apple spokesman declined to comment on the permit.
Regardless, it seems like we will soon be seeing Apple cars on the road. “I’m not sure they know what their play will be, but they do sense there’s an opportunity and they can bring value to it,” Ben Bajarin, an analyst with technology-research firm Creative Strategies, told the Wall Street Journal. “The question is: How big is this commitment? And how much money are they throwing at this commitment? It’s hard to know where this lands on their priority list.”
Article originally published in April 2017. Updated on 04-28-2017 by Lulu Chang: Added reports of the white Lexus seen exiting Apple’s facilities in California decked out with sensors.