The 15 miles that separate Apple and Stanford University now have tech centers for 11 car makers, if you include Apple and Google. Although each company is spending spectacular amounts of money on developing driverless cars, Apple may be about to take the lead by being the first company to gain the state’s DMV permission to test artificial intelligence cars on public roadways.
According to documents obtained by the London Guardian Newspaper, Mike Maletic, a senior legal counsel at Apple had an hour-long meeting on August 17. The California Department of Motor Vehicles’ driverless car, officially known as autonomous vehicle, experts MMV Deputy Director Bernard Soriano and Chief of Strategic Planning Stephanie Dougherty were present. They are the team leaders for the state’s autonomous regulatory project. DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet also attended the meeting.
The Apple chat comes as both Uber and Google are actively racing to take self-driving car testing from private tracks to public streets and highways. Google is believed to have at least a dozen cars and is working feverishly to have a fleet of several hundred autonomous vehicles ready in the near future.
The Guardian reported that Apple’s Mike Maletic was seeking to sign a letter of mutual confidentiality to enter into negotiations to develop a “use letter” to begin road test’s in May 2016 of its “Project Titan” robotic car at the state’s GoMentum Station test track at a decommissioned military base in Contra Costa County.
When confronted by reporters, the Motor Vehicle agency only stated, “The Apple meeting was to review DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations.”
Although Apple claims it is developing personal vehicles, the big money will be in commercial transportation. The development of any DMV regulations regarding public use of autonomous vehicles is an existential threat to California’s heavily unionized commercial over-the-road vehicle drivers. Although not all their members are drivers, there are 250,000 card carrying Teamsters’ Union “Brothers and Sisters” in California.
Ted Scott, Director of Engineering and safety policy for the American Trucking Associations, recently said, “We are going to have a driverless truck because there will be money in it.” He added that millions of autonomous trucks are “close to inevitable.”
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval told a press conference in April at the introduction of Mercedes Benz’s first Freightliner Inspiration 18 wheeler autonomous tractor and trailer rig that there are currently about 330,000 large trucks that are involved in some type of crash in the United States each year and about 4,000 are killed. About 90 percent of those were caused by driver error. Boston Consulting Group’s North America automotive division head, Xavier Mosquet, suggested, “Anything that can get commercial vehicles out of trouble has a lot of value.”
Google, Tesla, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Volkswagen and four other developers of autonomous vehicles already have permission from the state to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. Most of those permits involve the 12 mile stretch in the heart of Silicon Valley from Santa Clara to the Stanford University campus.