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DMV Meeting Revs Apple Car Rumors

Apple executives recently met with officials from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles regarding the company’s plans to test an autonomous vehicle, The Guardian reported Friday.

Mike Maletic, senior legal counsel for Apple, had an hour-long meeting in August with California’s autonomous vehicle experts, including the cosponsors of the state’s autonomous vehicle regulation project, according to the newspaper.

The California DMV team reportedly consisted of Deputy Director Bernard Soriano; Stephanie Dougherty, chief of strategic planning; and Chief Counsel Brian Soublet.

The DMV is developing regulations for the eventual deployment and public operation ofautonomous vehicles in the state.

The new rumors follow news from last month that Apple was in the process ofsecuring a testing site outside San Francisco at a disused military facility, as part of its Project Titan.

All this adds to speculation that Apple is increasingly serious about developing an autonomous vehicle, but this is an area where companies such as Google already have established a notable presence.

Revolutionary Road

Google may have the lead in the autonomous vehicle space, but Apple has shown with a variety of products — including the iPod, iPhone and iPad — that it has a real talent for taking over.

The company has a way of entering a nascent market and lighting it on fire, observed Scott Steinberg, principal analyst atTechSavvy Global.

What it has shown is that it is more revolutionary than evolutionary, he told TechNewsWorld.

That has been true since the 1990s, when Steve Jobs returned to the company he founded and helped refocus it from computers to mobile devices. How that will translate to an iCar is another issue, however.

“The strength of Apple has been in products and design, but it could very easily move into industrial design that includes cars,” added Steinberg. “However, it is more likely that they could partner with other companies, so it’s to be determined how they will actually move fully into this space.”

Crowded Highway

The autonomous vehicle space could be a major opportunity for Apple, especially if it is developing the software rather than trying to become an automaker.

“The space is very crowded right now, but the irony is that none of these companies have really developed technology that is clever enough to handle real-world driving situations,” said Peter Harrop, principal analyst atIDTechEx.

“The problem of real-world total autonomy is that the sensors aren’t smart enough to predict when people will dart in front of the car, and this makes it virtually insurmountable in terms of safety for these vehicles,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Riding Shotgun

If Apple goes forward with its rumored plans, it may find itself alone on the road.

“We have seen that Apple — and Google, for that matter — has done a good job of partnering with other companies, but they may not be willing to ride shotgun on this,” said Steinberg.

Any partnerships that are forged are likely to be tentative — at least at first.

“It is clear the automakers are fearful that Google and Apple will make the profits from developing this technology only to leave the automakers holding the bag when something goes awry,” suggested Harrop. “That could be a field day for the lawyers.”

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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