Apple has nearly doubled the number of self-driving cars in its California test fleet, according to new figures obtained by the Financial Times. The company currently has 45 autonomous test vehicles registered with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which is up from 27 in late January. That’s more than companies like Waymo and Uber, and second only to General Motors (which performs tests with Cruise, its self-driving division).
The news comes two days after one of Uber’s self-driving test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona while in autonomous mode.
Little is known about the particulars of Apple’s self-driving program, which is codenamed Project Titan. The company’s fleet is made up of Lexus RX450h SUVs, each of which are outfitted with huge racks of LIDAR and radar sensors, as well as plenty of cameras. Apple reportedly reduced its focus from developing a full self-driving car to just working on the software back in 2016, something CEO Tim Cook later confirmed.
But that’s about it. While Apple’s cars are often spotted in the wild, we don’t have the same kind of hard data about how often the company is testing them like we do with other companies. Apple’s first permits were granted in April of last year, which was late enough that the company wasn’t included in the California DMV’s 2017 self-driving “report cards,” which track how many miles each of the companies’ cars has driven, as well as the number of “disengagements” (or how many times a company’s safety driver had to take over control of the self-driving test cars).
Research firm Navigant recently scored Apple below almost every other company that is currently testing self-driving vehicles in California based on categories like strategy, technology, and execution, though the company did say Apple has “existing capabilities that make it uniquely positioned to participate in the automated driving space.”
Navigant placed Apple in the same “challengers” tier as Tesla and Uber — notable since Uber’s testing in California has been limited thanks to the company’s disputes with the DMV, and Tesla reported to the California DMV that the 39 test vehicles it has registered in the state traveled zero miles in 2017. (Instead, Tesla said it gathers data “via simulation, in laboratories, on test tracks, and on public roads in various locations around the world,” as well as by accumulating “shadow” data from the hundreds of thousands of customer vehicles in operation.)
Apple is increasing the number of cars in its California test fleet at a time when some of the leading automakers and technology companies in the space are branching out beyond the Golden State. Waymo recently reduced the number of cars it’s testing in California while increasing its fleet in Arizona, as well as on the snowy streets of Michigan. The company also has a presence in Atlanta. GM, meanwhile, is bringing its self-driving Chevy Bolts to New York City. Uber’s self-driving project has also maintained a presence in Arizona, though the company’s testing is on hold after this week’s accident.