SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Apple’s secret project to develop self-driving cars got further confirmation Friday, as the California Department of Motor Vehicles released a list of companies with permits to test the technology with the Cupertino-based company on it.
Apple has never formerly acknowledged its work on driverless technology, but rumors have swirled around the company’s foray into the increasingly crowded field that includes the likes of Tesla, Google spin-off Waymo and Uber.
Traditional carmakers such as Honda, Ford and Mercedes-Benz have also taken out permits to test autonomous vehicles in California, according the DMV’s Friday release.
Apple’s foray into the technology, reportedly nicknamed Project Titan, is rumored to have been on the ropes, with many insiders in Silicon Valley speculating the company is more interested in developing software that can be used in association with already established carmakers rather than developing the cars itself.
However, the DMV’s report brings that rumor into question.
Friday’s report is not the only recent sign Apple is prepared to compete in the driverless-car market. The technology giant sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last November tipping its hand.
“The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation,” the letter said, which was intended to comment on the agency’s federal automated vehicle’s policy.
The letter was signed by Steve Kenner, who was previously employed by Ford.
Per California DMV’s policy, companies are required to file disengagement reports which disclose general facts about their driverless vehicle programs, including miles travelled.
Apple, which appears on the DMV’s permit list for the first time, is yet to file such a report. If and when the tech giant does, it will contain more clues about the state of its program.
The California DMV’s commitment to regulating the driverless car industry was on display late last year, when it threatened to sue Uber after the company launched a driverless car program on the streets of San Francisco.
Uber maintained it did not need a permit because a driver was in the car serving as a monitor, but it ultimately bent to the demands of the state and removed the cars from the streets and shipped them to Arizona.
The autonomous-vehicle industry has also been beset by a spate of lawsuits, as companies attempt to protect their trade secrets and prevent their engineers from taking their know-how on the open market where millions of dollars are available.
In January, Tesla sued its former engineer Stirling Andersen and his new business partner, claiming Andersen ran off with the company’s trade secrets to found his own startup.
Similarly, Google’s self-driving spin-off Waymo sued Uber in February, also claiming a former employee used proprietary information to create a start-up firm that was eventually bought by Uber.
Late last month, UCAR, the Chinese version of Uber, sued four of its former engineers involved with its autonomous driving division, accusing them of taking proprietary secrets and starting their own company.
It’s an arms race with coders and engineers on the front lines, and it appears Apple is entering the fray.