Apple’s autonomous test vehicle involved in first crash

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One of Apple's self-driving cars was involved in its first crash.
Photo: Bloomberg

Apple’s autonomous vehicle program sustained its first crash last week.

A Nissan Leaf rear-ended one of Apple’s autonomous test vehicles, according to a filing with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV licenses autonomous car testing programs in the state.

The crash occurred just before 3 p.m. on August 24 in Santa Clara, close to Apple’s HQ in nearby Cupertino, during autonomous testing. The crash resulted in “moderate” damage to the vehicle but nobody suffered any injuries.

According to the report, published by the DMV on Friday: “An Apple test vehicle in autonomous mode was rear-ended while preparing to merge onto Lawrence Expressway South from Kifer Road. The Apple test vehicle was traveling less than 1 mph waiting for a safe gap to complete the merge when a 2016 Nissan Leaf contacted the Apple test vehicle at approximately 15 mph. Both vehicles sustained damage and no injuries were reported by either party.”

The first Apple car crash

This appears to be the first crash involving one of Apple’s test vehicles. But Apple’s competitors in the race for robot cars haven’t been so lucky. Uber withdrew testing of its autonomous vehicles in California after a fatal crash in Arizona last year. Google’s test cars have been involved in about 33 accidents, including a serious one earlier this year.

The DMV has approved 56 companies to test self-driving vehicles on California roads. According to the agency, Apple has been approved to test 66 autonomous vehicles in the state. Google’s Waymo has 88 vehicles and Tesla has 39. Apple started testing autonomous vehicles on California’s roads in 2017.

Apple autonomous car program

The company hasn’t officially acknowledged it is building an autonomous car. However, there have been dozens of rumors and reports about it. Internally, the Apple autonomous car program is code-named “Project Titan.” Last year during an earnings call, CEO Tim Cook said the company was involved in a “large project” to develop AI and autonomy, but didn’t mention robot cars specifically. He called it “the mother of all AI problems.”

The latest rumor reports claim Apple is building an autonomous shuttle to ferry workers between its buildings in Cupertino, but the presence of 66 test vehicles on California’s roads suggest its ambitions are much bigger.

Update: BBC reporter Dave Lee said the DMV hasn’t assigned blame for the crash to either of the drivers, or the autonomous vehicle’s software. Police weren’t called, either.