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Apple set to test autonomous cars

California drivers are already sharing the road with autonomous cars developed by Tesla and Alphabet, and now they can add Apple to the list of companies putting self-driving cars onto their roads.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has granted Apple a permit to test three Lexus sport utility vehicles that will use software instead of human intelligence. Six engineers have permits to ride in the vehicles, and take over the controls if necessary.

Apple late last year highlighted its ambitions around autonomous cars in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automation in many areas, including transportation,” Apple wrote. “Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive and more personal.”

For automakers, the idea that Apple could bring its design and development expertise to the trillion dollar vehicle industry is probably nothing short of terrifying. That’s just one of the reasons the largest auto manufacturers are racing to get their own autonomous cars onto the road.

All the autonomous cars on the road today have a long way to go before they will be ready for the mass market, according to some researchers.

“If you look at autonomous driving like a Tesla or a Google does it and you go on [Highway] 101 in the Bay Area and see a Tesla or a Google car in autonomous driving mode, it’s horrible,” said Professor Gerhard Fettweis, the Vodafone chair at the Technical University of Dresden. “The space it leaves in front of it is so big so that it doesn’t come to this build up … so it is totally ineffective in terms of being able to move a ton of cars over the freeway. So you have to start now going from autonomous vehicles to highly automated driving, meaning that they have to be connected, they have to talk to each other so that they then can actually decrease the distance.”

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