Apple has formally thrown its name into the driverless car ring. The iPhone manufacturer’s name is plainly listed on the California Department of Motor Vehicles website as an approved autonomous vehicle tester within the state’s borders. Apple stands out on the list, which otherwise constitutes recognizable car companies and tech start-ups; Nissan, Subaru, Tesla, and Udacity are among them. May the speculative fanboys and dry-cut industry analysts get their engines started: Apple is formally outed as a consumer tech company pursuing automotive interests.
“Project Titan” was the codename applied to Apple's driverless car efforts, and the company has lately been hiring employees from Tesla. California’s legislative environment has been largely receptive to adopting robust driverless car laws. As the most populous state in America, it sees significant traffic mortality on its roadways: some 3,000 people die in California traffic accidents every year, and an estimated 90 percent of these incidents are the result of human error.
The driverless appeal is clear to the Golden State: By removing the human variable from transportation, autonomous vehicle technology presents itself as a lifesaving technology. There’s still a way to go, as this technology is far from mainstream. California’s driverless vehicles are only legal for testing purposes for now; a trained operator is required to be behind the wheel at all times, regardless of the extent to which he or she is or isn’t steering.
There’s also an important mechanism missing from the current legislation: a formal structure to certify a driverless car as roadworthy. Instead, companies will self-certify autonomous cars, which doesn’t sit well with one expert. Ryan Calo, robotics law expert and law professor at the University of Washington, tells WIRED this system is like “going to the DMV and saying, believe me, I’m an excellent driver... It makes me a little nervous, honestly.” Calo suggests it’d be better to see a universal standard upheld, or at least have third-party approval.
But these remain nascent times for the seemingly inevitable driverless car paradigm. Google is widely identified as the main driverless car company after successfully helping pitch the idea to the general public, but the reality is that the mainstream driverless car of the future will only be made possible by lots of companies working to solve the same problems. And now we know Apple will be one of them.