A few years ago, there were rumors that Apple was interested in developing its own branded car, an idea that made little to no sense for a number of reasons. Since then, word has surfaced that Apple’s interest in the automotive field has undergone a marked shift. Rather than developing a car from scratch, Apple now appears to be singularly focused on developing self-driving car technologies. And in a rare admission for the notoriously secretive company, Tim Cook this past June confirmed that Apple was in fact working on “autonomous systems” for cars, an initiative Cook dubbed the “mother of all AI projects.”
Last we heard, Apple’s self-driving car initiative includes dozens of test vehicles, a good number of which are Lexus SUVs. Indeed, there have even been a few sightings of Apple test vehicles outfitted with an assortment of advanced LIDAR sensors. Without question, self-driving car technology has the potential to completely upend the way we travel, and Apple is seemingly working hard to ensure that a future filled with self-driving cars will not belong exclusively to companies like Tesla and Uber.
That said, a new report from the Financial Times reveals that Apple over the past few months has added upwards of 18 new self-driving test vehicles to its fleet and now has an estimated 45 in total. All told, Apple now has more test vehicles at its disposal than both Uber and even Waymo, Google’s self-driving car division.
Waymo’s fleet reduction in California means it now has fewer vehicles testing in its home state than rivals Tesla, Uber and Apple. Uber has permits to test 29 cars there — though it has now suspended testing everywhere following Sunday’s crash — while Tesla has 39 permits, according to the DMV.
All three are now exceeded by Apple’s testing fleet, which has expanded rapidly in recent months. After first receiving a permit to test just three autonomous vehicles in April last year, that figure jumped to 27 in January.
As for Apple’s end-game with all of this, well, that remains to be seen. It is worth noting, though, that Tim Cook earlier this year said that Apple is already working on products and technologies that won’t see the light of day until the 2020s.