The iPhone of cars? Apple enters self-driving car race

Apple was added to the list of permit holders that are allowed to participate in the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program in California on Friday, joining companies like Google, Tesla, BMW, Honda, Ford, Nissan, and more.

Apple will be vying against 29 other companies that already have California permits to test self-driving cars. At the same time, Apple is said to have had problems with whatever it is developing based on a report in September that said it had laid off dozens of employees at its self-driving auto project, and shuttered parts of it.

The project quickly became something of an open secret among technology-watchers, even if it was never truly clear what Apple was working on.

"This does confirm what's always been rumored: that Apple is at least toying with the idea of getting into the autonomous game in some capacity", said Chris Theodore, President of consultancy Theodore & Associates, and a former Vice President at Ford Motor Company and Chrysler.

Like those other companies, Apple's test vehicles will have human drivers behind the wheel when they go out on public roads, according to California regulations.

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) - Apple's interest in self-driving cars is becoming more transparent.

Aside from the new permit, Apple has provided little insight into its vehicle-related efforts.

California's relatively strict testing rules haven't deterred companies from seeking testing permits.

Apple noted that it uses artificial intelligence to "make its products and services smarter, more intuitive and more personal", and said it was investing heavily in studying automation and was "excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation".

Self-driving technology has the potential to reshape how people work, play and commute; proponents say automating vehicles will help reduce congestion and prevent crashes caused by human error, which according to federal statistics account for 95 percent of all accidents. The business around autonomous vehicles is likely to be worth trillions, so experts have expected Apple to formally dive into the field.

Apple declined to comment about whether Apple is now testing autonomous vehicles on public roads and pointed to a previous statement that it is "investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems".

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