Only 23 of Apple’s registered self-driving cars were active between December 2018 and November 2019, according to data provided to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In total, Apple’s fleet of modified Lexus RX450h SUVs travelled 7,544 miles during the period.
That’s down from the 79,745 miles its vehicles travelled in the previous year.
Self-driving cars in California
One figure which is also down — for the better — are disengagements on public roads. Disengagements are instances in which the autonomous drive mode of the cars was deactivated and/or the human safety driver took over. Apple reported 64 disengagements across the distance it drove last year, equating to approximately 8.48 disengagements for every 1,000 miles. Last year, it had a disengagement rate of approximately 871.65 disengagements per 1,000 miles.
Of Apple’s 64 disengagements this year, 52 were initiated by the autonomous driving system. On 12 occasions, human safety drivers overrode the autonomous vehicles’ decisions.
The company with the best record for disengagements was Baidu. The Chinese tech company’s four development vehicles traveled 100,300.2 miles with just six disengagements. That works out at 0.06 disengagements per thousand miles. Waymo and Cruise also had impressive disengagement rates of 0.08 per 1,000 miles. Waymo traveled 1,453,137.3 miles in 147 cars.
Are disengagements a useful metric?
Not all academics and industry experts think this is a valuable metric for the Department of Motor Vehicles to share, however. Waymo, the Google self-driving car division, tweeted Wednesday that: “We appreciate what the California DMV was trying to do when creating this requirement, but the disengagement metric does not provide relevant insights into the capabilities of the Waymo Driver or distinguish its performance from others in the self-driving space.”
One explanation for differing numbers of disengagements is different testing environment. Disengagements are far more likely to occur in built-up urban areas.
Last year, Apple described its “conservative” approach to disengagements. It encouraged “drivers to proactively take manual control of the vehicle any time the system encounters a scenario beyond our currently proven abilities.”
The rise of Project Titan
Named Project Titan, Apple’s car project has been in the works as far back as early 2014. However, Apple only received permission to test its autonomous vehicles on California roads in 2017.
In July 2019, Apple hired high profile Tesla executive Steve MacManus to join the team. MacManus served as Tesla’s vice president of engineering from 2015 until 2019.
Late last year, two men were arrested for trying to steal secrets from Apple’s autonomous car project. The former employees were caught with computers loaded with Apple’s intellectual property.
Apple has not revealed whether it plans to ever ship an Apple Car.