Last week, Apple’s secretive, self-driving car project got some attention for adding more cars approved for testing in California.
But despite the company’s big name and the heightened curiosity over the iPhone-maker’s foray into autonomous vehicles, the winner here is not the company you’d expect.
We looked at the past few months of reports from the California DMV’s self-driving permit program to see which of the 50-plus (and growing) companies involved are stepping up its testing. Only two companies — Waymo, the self-driving car program from Google, and one other that has not been publicly revealed at this time — have applied for permits for the state’s truly driverless testing program, which would allow for an empty vehicle.
In terms of cars currently allowed to test drive on the California road, GM’s Cruise Automation dominates the big players. With 104 vehicles — named after the condor, hippo, wolverine, scorpion, puma, crayfish, and mongoose (according to the company’s last disengagement report from December) and of course, those ubiquitous Chevy Bolts — the startup-turned-major-car-company project has a large fleet with which to attempt to hit its target. By 2019, the company plans to offer a self-driving car service.
A company spokesperson for Cruise Automation made clear that although the total reported cars can technically drive with the self-driving tech, it doesn’t mean that many are out on the road, and almost certainly not all at once. But here in the Bay Area, it makes sense why those white Chevy Bolt Cruise vehicles appear to be everywhere — GM has way more cars than any other company, and have for months.
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment about its growing autonomous vehicle project — aside from DMV reports, the company hasn’t publicized or shared anything about the team, the cars, tech, testing milestones, or any partners, goals or timelines.
But the picture on the road is different from just a year ago. Then, Cruise was trailing Waymo’s 79 approved vehicles with its 31.
Looking at miles driven in autonomous mode — a key indicator in the autonomous testing race — Waymo is still firmly ahead: It logged 4 million miles across the U.S. by the end of November, and the company now says it’s at more than 5 million self-driven miles. In its end-of-year report in December, Waymo said it had completed 352,545 miles in autonomous mode in California.
GM’s Cruise, comparatively, reported 125,000 miles on San Francisco streets.
Before Uber dropped its California testing permit (hence the zero vehicles in the latest report) after a fatal crash in Arizona, Uber was around 3 million autonomous miles.
Apple will file its first report later this year.
Like Cruise, Waymo has ambitious goals, like offering a self-driving car service in Phoenix by the end of this year.
In the self-driving industry, other measuring metrics like miles per intervention (when a human has to take over from the machine) could be examined to tell which company is ahead, but these metrics are not standardized or consistently tracked. So it’s a pretty muddled terrain out there to predict which company is truly leading.
The race to autonomy continues.