The iPhone of cars? Apple enters self-driving car race

Apple joins a growing list of carmakers, technology firms, and small start-ups to test drive cars in California.

Apple will begin testing self-driving auto technology in California, its first public move into a highly competitive field that could radically change transportation.

This is not the first time Apple has leapt into the automotive space. A person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that software tests with existing vehicles will kick off soon. They asked not to be identified because the plans aren't public.

On Friday, California Department of Motor Vehicles made the news public and the agency said Apple has been given permission to test three cars manufactured by Lexus.

Like Google did in the past, Apple will most likely be fitting these vehicles with it's own software and hardware to test in real-world conditions what they've been secretly developing in their own labs. A quarter of all miles driven in the USA may be traveled in shared, self-driving electric cars by the end of the next decade, Boston Consulting Group said this month.

By obtaining clearance from California's Department of Motor Vehicles, Apple is signaling that it is serious about pushing forward with self-driving technology despite reports last fall that it was scaling back its ambitions, reports the Washington Post. The state requires a human behind the wheel during such testing.

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The secretive company that it is, little is known about the autonomous skills of Apple's software, but in a letter past year to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Apple said 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". "There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation".

The permit does not necessarily mean Apple is building a vehicle.

The ambiguity surrounding the effort was reflected in the numerous names that circulated about the project, such as the "Apple Car", "the iCar" and "Project Titan".

That means Apple has a long way to catch up in self-driving technology.

Self-driving cars could also be a lucrative new market.

Apple is joining the fiercely competitive race to design self-driving cars, raising the possibility that a company that has already re-shaped culture with its iPhone may try to transform transportation, too. Apple began to focus more on the self-driving technology past year after re-hiring former hardware executive Bob Mansfield to lead the project. This "disengagement report" is due by January 1 of each year.