Apple More Than Doubled Autonomous Road Tests in 2020

The Apple Park campus in Cupertino, Calif. (Sam Hall/Bloomberg News)
The Apple Park campus in Cupertino, Calif. (Sam Hall/Bloomberg News)

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Apple Inc. more than doubled road testing of its self-driving cars in 2020 as its autonomous technology improved, according to a report filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The company’s cars drove 18,805 miles last year, up from 7,544 miles in 2019. The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant also reported 130 disengagements, the number of times a human driver had to take over, up from 64. That resulted in a disengagement every 145 miles, compared with every 118 miles in 2019. That suggests Apple’s self-driving technology improved in these test settings.

Still, the test miles in 2020 lag the almost 80,000 miles Apple said its cars drove in 2018. That year, the company reported a disengagement about every mile, according to California DMV data.

Apple has ramped up work recently on an autonomous electric car to compete with Tesla Inc., General Motors Co. and others. The company has hundreds of engineers working on an underlying self-driving system and a subset of its car team is focusing on an actual consumer vehicle.

The company likely won’t launch a car for at least five years, Bloomberg News reported, though it has hired several former Tesla executives to work on parts such as drivetrains and car interiors and exteriors. Last year, it hired Tesla’s former self-driving chief, and in 2018 recruited former Tesla Chief Engineer Doug Field to run its own efforts. Late last year, Apple appointed machine learning chief John Giannandrea to oversee the project.

— With assistance from Ed Ludlow.

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