Apple is finally looking like a contender in the race for self-driving cars

Apple has doubled the number of its self-driving cars this year, and now has the second-largest fleet in California, Mac Reports first pointed out.

The tight-lipped tech giant has rapidly built up its self-driving car program, known as Project Titan, since gaining a testing permit in April of last year. Apple had only three cars on the road in 2017 before expanding to 27 this January and is now up to 55. That puts it four cars ahead of the latest figures we have for Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car division thought to be among the leaders in the sector. Tesla, touted for its advanced “Autopilot” mode, has only 39 self-driving cars in the state.

Apple still lags far behind General Motor’s Cruise division, which leads the pack with 104 vehicles. The DMV has now approved a resounding 53 companies for self-driving car permits, resulting in 409 autonomous vehicles with 1,573 safety drivers.

Each participant in this self-driving car race must have a safety driver in the vehicle during testing. Apple is said to employ 83 drivers for its fleet, far less than the 407 of GM or even the 338 Waymo drivers with approved permits. The next step, of course, is to test these sensor-equipped vehicles without drivers.

https://twitter.com/macjshiggins/status/920326969522241536

But before a company can acquire the required permit, it has to test its cars in a controlled setting. Waymo applied to the California DMV for a permit to test without human supervision last month, though it’s not clear whether it has been accepted. The DMV said a second, unnamed company requested the same approval but didn’t offer additional details.

With a new permit and expanded fleet, things are finally starting to look up for Apple after years of hardship. The company’s Project Titan was first developed in 2014 as a future rival to Tesla. But building an entire self-driving car fleet from the ground up proved too difficult. After downsizing the team, Apple made the difficult decision to abandon plans to build a car and focus instead on the core technology behind autonomous driving, e.g. sensors, LIDAR, radar units, AI, and data processing.  

The company’s fleet is now made up of Lexus RX450h SUVs, each outfitted with Apple’s proprietary technology. Despite the recent steps it’s made, analysts predict we won’t be seeing cars with fruit logos driving around until at least 2020.

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.