Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Lexus crossover that Apple has received permission to use in testing autonomous vehicle technology in California. It is the Lexus 450h, not the 540h.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple, in another sign the tech giant is moving forward with plans to develop self-driving vehicle technology, has been granted a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California.
The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Friday added the tech giant to the list of companies allowed to test self-driving light vehicles on public roads.
"This does confirm what's long been rumored: that Apple is at least toying with the idea of getting into the autonomous game in some capacity," said Chris Theodore, president of consulting firm Theodore & Associates, and a former vice president and engineer at Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler.
The permit does not necessarily mean Apple is building a car. "This is not necessarily automobiles as initially rumored, but software or possibly hardware associated with autonomous technology," Theodore added.
Apple has been notoriously secretive about its plans for autonomous vehicles. In November, in public comments submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the agency's self-driving vehicle policies, Apple said it was “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation.”
An Apple spokesman referred to the company’s statement on the NHTSA guidelines when asked for comment on the California permit.
The tech company also lists Robert Bosch as one of its suppliers, however Apple declined to give details on the nature of the relationship.
Apple joins a long list of 29 automakers, suppliers and tech companies, including fellow Silicon Valley titan Google, allowed to test autonomous vehicles in California.
Apple will soon begin testing self-driving software with existing cars, Bloomberg reported, attributing the information to a person familiar with the matter. Apple started developing a self-driving car a few years ago before it pulled back and focused on first developing underlying autonomous technology last year.
A quarter of all miles driven in the U.S. may happen in shared, self-driving electric cars by the end of the next decade, Boston Consulting Group said this month.
Subject to standard regulations for testing autonomous technology on public roads, the Apple cars will have a person behind the wheel to monitor the testing, the person told Bloomberg. The California permit granted to Apple covers three 2015 Lexus RX 450h crossovers, and six drivers, the DMV said.
Apple’s self-driving technology is being developed in secret company offices in Sunnyvale, Calif., a short drive from its main Cupertino campus, Bloomberg News has reported. The company also has a team in Canada working on a car operating system that would power the platform, people familiar with the matter have said.
The self-driving car platform is designed so that Apple could choose to open it up to existing automakers or eventually port it to an Apple-designed vehicle. Apple began to focus more on the self-driving technology last year after rehiring former hardware executive Bob Mansfield to lead the project. Apple aims to decide on the final direction of the platform by fall of this year, Bloomberg News has reported.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.
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