Apple has had its hand tipped by government disclosures yet again. Citing unspecified documents, The Guardian reported that Apple met with officials from the California Department of Motor Vehicles in August to discuss the company's plans for an autonomous vehicle.
Apple hasn't announced plans for such a vehicle, but TMO confirmed the company was working on a car earlier this year. Since then, the mainstream media has reported numerous details of the project, including its name, Titan.
The Guardian, however, has twice uncovered information through California government. In August, the newspaper reported that Apple had met with officials at GoMentum Station, a facility owned by a public agency with disclosure requirements. Apple was inquiring about using that facility for testing autonomous vehicles. While GoMentum Station is publicly owned, access to the former military base is closed to public scrutiny.
The DMV acknowledged its meeting with Apple, but said only, "The Apple meeting was to review [the] DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations."
The Center of Things
Silicon Valley has become the hotbed for self-driving car technology because it's been led by tech companies, not Detroit or Frankfurt. Google has been working in the field since 2009, and Apple, Tesla, and even Uber have also entered the fray in one capacity or another.
Which brings with it an added wrinkle. Self-driving cars on the road are still in their very early days. Google's cars, for instance, are licensed to drive on some California highways, but aren't allowed in the city yet. That's one of the things that makes GoMentum Station important—the former base has many miles of city streets that are closed off to the public. It's an ideal testing environment, though it requires pesky permits and whatnot that can expose a company's secrets to the outside world.
The Guardian pointed out that Apple could easily build its own private testing facility, and that it might well have already done so. The company has enough money to build an entire fake town many times over, and a completely private facility is just that, private.
Ultimately, however, these cars have to be tested in real-world conditions, and that means hitting the same pavement you and I drive (when in California). So the California DMV is busily working on regulations governing their use. What cars, what models, what plans, who's driving, and a host of other considerations have yet to be established.
That puts California regulators at the forefront of this area, and what they do is likely to play a significant role in what the federal government does when it gets into this regulatory game.
"Candidly, the regulations that get developed in California could be utilized by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when it is in a position to develop federal regulations,” Bernard Soriano, DMV deputy director, recently noted.
For that reason, Apple, Google, the other tech companies working in this field, and legacy car makers alike are all involved in helping to set those regulations. What's happening here will have ripple effects throughout the world.