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Apple has expanded its team of test drivers for its “Apple Car” autonomous vehicle project. The increase in test driver numbers comes a few months after Apple cut a significant number of test drivers for the project.
Apple’s much-rumored autonomous vehicle project has reportedly been developing and testing its driverless technology for close to 10 years — not an unusual timeframe when it comes to new Apple products. The Cupertino company historically develops and tests new initiatives for several years before deciding whether to scrap a project or turn it into a final product.
The self-driving vehicle project, codenamed “Project Titan,” reportedly started back in 2014.
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Data published by the California DMV in March 2023 showed that Apple had registered 66 vehicles and 201 drivers for testing autonomous driving features and capabilities on public streets and highways. However, that number is reported to have slipped quite a bit in April, plunging to 145 drivers.
Now, macReports says the number of test drivers is once again on the rise, as 152 drivers are currently assigned to the project. While that’s still fewer drivers than Apple had employed in March, the rise in driver numbers shows Apple is still moving ahead with its autonomous vehicle ambitions.
It should be noted that Apple has yet to officially confirm that it is working on an “Apple Car” project at all. At most, CEO Tim Cook has made oblique comments during investor calls that self-driving systems are something that the iPhone maker finds “interesting.”
However, there have been multiple indicators that Apple is working on a vehicle, as an August 2022 report said a former Apple employee had pled guilty to theft of Apple Car trade secrets. Xiaolang Zhang left Apple for a Chinese vehicle startup XMotors in April 2018. Soon after, Apple discovered that Zhang had taken Apple Car development data and hardware with him when he changed companies.
In June of this year, Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives commented that the Apple Car is a case of “when, not if.” Wedbush said he expects an Apple-produced vehicle to be available sometime by 2026. Previously, well-connected industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple has fallen behind on its Apple Car project and that the company will not be able to meet a 2025 release date.
macReports says that the Cupertino-based firm has reported a collision when one of its Lexus test automobiles was rear-ended while it was waiting at a stop sign in May of this year.
The number of driverless vehicles being tested in the Golden State is on the rise, as several other firms have received licenses to test driverless vehicles. Apple has yet to apply for a driverless permit, which means all of its autonomous vehicle testing still requires human safety drivers to be in the car.
Mercedes also recently joined the ranks of car companies testing autonomous vehicles in June, moving straight to a license for the deployment of driverless vehicles on public roads without previously holding a driverless testing permit. The other three manufacturers who are cleared to deploy driverless vehicles are Cruise, Nuro, and Waymo, all of which also have held both driverless testing and deployment permits since at least September 2021.
Many had expected that Apple would begin producing its self-driving Apple Car sometime in 2024. However, some analysts now believe that the current limitations of self-driving technology may have caused a delay in the Apple Car release timeframe. In December, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman also reported that Apple may forgo perfecting fully autonomous self-driving on the first Apple Car to get it onto the market as soon as possible.