Apple's car plans just got a lot more interesting

As it turns out, Apple's car ambitions haven't been completely shuttered. While Apple may have scaled back its research and development efforts with respect to developing and manufacturing its own car -- a herculean goal to say the least -- it appears that the company is still interested in developing proprietary self-driving software.

According to Business Insider, a new entry on California's DMV website indicates that Apple was recently granted a permit that gives it permission to test drive autonomous vehicles on public roads.

"Today, April 14, 2017, California Department of Motor Vehicles issued Apple Inc. an autonomous vehicle test permit. The permit covers three vehicles, all 2015 Lexus RX450h, and six drivers," a DMV spokeswoman told Business Insider.

Apple declined to comment about whether Apple is currently testing autonomous vehicles on public roads and pointed to a previous statement that it is "investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems."

The report seems to suggest that Apple's research in the area is progressing along, though it's far too early to speculate as to just how far advanced and capable Apple's homegrown self-driving software actually is. Besides, it's one thing to test self-driving software in a lab and a completely different thing to test it out on the open road where driving conditions and the behavior of other drivers and pedestrians can be wholly unpredictable.

Interestingly enough, news of Apple's freshly granted DVM permit comes just a few months after the company penned a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which relayed the company's interest in developing self-driving car technologies.

Apple's aforementioned letter reads in part:

Apple is pleased to provide the following comments on the proposed Federal Automated Vehicles Policy (Policy), published by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway TraSafety Administration (NHTSA). Apple believes this Policy will be fundamental to ensuring the safety and public acceptance of automated vehicles while providing a flexible path for innovation.

Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. 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.

As it stands now, there's reason to believe that Apple's car plans are in flux. Indeed, the last significant report on the matter came from the New York Tiimes a few months back. There, the Times said that Apple was re-evaluating its goals in the automotive space.

In a retrenchment of one of its most ambitious initiatives, Apple has shuttered parts of its self-driving car project and laid off dozens of employees, according to three people briefed on the move who were not allowed to speak about it publicly.

The job cuts are the latest sign of trouble with Apple’s car initiative. The company has added resources to the project — code-named Titan — over the last two years, but it has struggled to make progress. And in July, the company brought in Bob Mansfield, a highly regarded Apple veteran, to take over the effort.

Clearly, Apple's automotive plans remain alive and well, but it remains to be seen if Project Titan will ever yield a marketable product. While previous rumors claimed that an Apple branded car might see the light of day by 2018 or 2019, those reports seem beyond unlikely at this point.

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