Apple has more autonomous cars on road than Waymo or Tesla
Concept design, not Apple test vehicle

Apple has more autonomous cars on road than Waymo or Tesla

Apple has increased its fleet of autonomous test vehicles in California to 55, with 83 registered drivers, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The announcement means that Apple now has more autonomous test cars in the state than Waymo (51), Tesla (39), and recent entrant Drive.ai (14). Only GM Cruise has more registered vehicles, at 104.

According to the DMV, 53 companies are testing a total of 409 autonomous vehicles in California.

However, Apple has yet to apply for a driverless permit, which would allow it to test the cars without a safety driver onboard. The California DMV began issuing full driverless permits in April 2018.

Apple ambitions

A year ago, Apple had only three test vehicles in the state, but by January this year, had increased that number to 45, suggesting a major and ongoing ramping-up of its Project Titan autonomous programme.

While the programme is no secret, Apple’s ambitions in the driverless vehicle market are less clear than Waymo’s and Tesla’s – companies that, alongside Uber, dominate the headlines in this space.

Last year, a report suggested that internal disagreements at Apple had shifted the focus of Project Titan from developing a standalone vehicle to – unusually – developing ‘CarOS’ to license to other companies.

Along the way, Apple has reportedly explored incorporating augmented reality into the programme, and has even looked at reinventing the wheel, at one point favouring a spherical design, which would allow sideways movement.

The world’s most valuable company has also been developing its driverless technology to transport employees from building to building on the Apple campus – the so-called Palo Alto Infinite Loop (PAIL).

Plus: Tencent hits the road

In related news, technology and investment conglomerate Tencent has begun testing autonomous cars on public roads in Shenzhen, China. The company joins Baidu, which is testing in the capital, Beijing, and the SAIC Motor Corp and startup NIO, which are both testing vehicles in Shanghai.

Internet of Business says

Reports that Apple is currently focused on licensing its autonomous software are, in Apple terms, extraordinary.

Apple’s core problem has long been that, by continuing its walled garden approach to technology, it allows competitors, such as Google, to licence their operating systems to electronics manufacturers, such as Samsung and LG, which then push the rival solution to critical mass.

In very broad terms, this is what happened with the Apple Mac and Windows in the 1990s, and with the iPhone/iOS and Android this decade – although much of Android’s progress over the past 10 years has actually been at the expense of other operating systems, including Symbian, Bada, and Windows Mobile.

Nevertheless, iOS’ market share has declined from about 21 percent a decade ago to 14 percent in 2017 – albeit in a market that has massively expanded worldwide. Android’s market share stood at 86 percent in 2017, up five percent year on year. If the same trend continues through 2018, Android will own over 90 percent of the mobile OS market worldwide – just as Microsoft owned the desktop in the 1990s.

By licensing ‘CarOS’ to automakers – presumably those that share Apple’s values and design ethos – Apple could avoid the enormous development and manufacturing costs of building its own cars, and compete on IP alone.

While Waymo, Uber, Tesla, and others, seek to be the Fords and GMs of the 21st Century, the financial impact of building out that kind of presence is enormous, in a driverless market that is completely unproven in commercial terms. Plus GM, Ford, Toyota, BMW, and other traditional automotive manufacturers increasingly see themselves as technology companies too – and GM Cruise has the most autonomous cars on the road in California.

More, with most autonomous vehicles limited to well-mapped urban environments and main roads, the market may be more likely to take to the skies in the short to medium term, where the weather is the biggest challenge, not rural topography.

The only question mark for Apple in autonomous vehicle terms is who its customers might be. With many traditional and upscale automakers also exploring driverless and connected technologies of their own, Apple must be hoping that many will realise they need to bring in external software expertise to hit the road towards the future.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.