Apple added more self-driving cars to its fleet, but it's still in the slow lane

If the glacially slow pace for the release of the Apple HomePod smart speaker serves as any indication, Apple is taking its sweet time developing its variations on the hot topics of modern tech. In the meantime, competitors are achieving leads that would seemingly make it difficult for Apple to catch up.

Consider Apple’s approach to automated cars. Previously, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company had just three Lexus RX450h SUVs in its fleet, but over the last few months it has expanded that humble number to 27, reports Bloomberg.

That’s an impressive number, but it seems unremarkable compared to reports that competitor Waymo now has automated cars on the roads in several US states. In the case of Arizona, some of these cars aren’t even required to have safety drivers anymore. 

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t even publicly announce that Apple was working on autonomous car technology until last June, even though rumors about a “Project Titan” had been swirling around for months. In previous reports, Cook said the company has been focusing on software rather than on-street testing.

Last December, Apple’s AI director discussed the company’s approach more thoroughly, explaining that Apple’s software is capable of detecting pedestrians even when they’re hidden by other cars.

Nor did Apple publicly announce that it had 24 new cars on the road. Instead, the information was discovered by contacting the California Department of Motor Vehicles. 

The California DMV also revealed that the SUVs are being leased from Hertz, and back in April, the agency helped confirm that Apple was working on autonomous cars in the first place. 

Here’s a look at one of the cars as spotted in October 2017.

Prepare for the CarPod?

While a Lexus may seem like an on-the-nose choice for an Apple autonomous car, there’s some method to it as the RX450h vehicles can easily be fitted with sensors such as those from Apple. (Google has also used the same vehicle.)

That may provide some clues into Apple’s approach to autonomous cars. As many commentators have suggested, Apple may be looking into making an attachment that can make some models of existing vehicles compatible with autonomous tech rather than making full cars of its own.

If so, it’s a comparatively novel approach, and one that shows that Apple may still surprise us after all.

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