Apple testing process for autonomous safety drivers revealed in DMV documents

Apple has developed a testing procedure for drivers who would act as failsafe controls during autonomous vehicle testing, documents discovered by Business Insider via a public records request show. The documents detail the testing procedure that Apple has created in order to comply with the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s rules regarding autonomous testing on state roads.

Business Insider’s report on the documents detail the development platform being used by Apple in its testing, which include sensor hardware and software for monitoring surroundings, and which are called the “Apple Automated System.” It can control steering, acceleration, deceleration and “portions of the dynamic driving task,” according to forms filled out by Apple officials. So basically, it’s like any other autonomous driving tech in development.

The documents also reveal that cars used for testing include steering equipment culled from consumer gaming controller equipment (Logitech wheel and pedals, specifically) to provide them with the means to take over control of the vehicle. Driver proficiency with identifying the need to take over, as well as their actual ability to take action, are then tested using seven different tests, which is Apple’s way of fulfilling a requirement dictated by California law that safety drivers be tested prior to deploying test vehicles on the road.

These documents don’t shed much in the way of new light on Apple’s plans for autonomous driving – the company was previously granted a license by the California DMV to conduct autonomous testing, a process which includes public listing of the company name on a list on the DMV’s website. Apple’s permit covers three 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs, which is the car that Google has been using for its own self-driving tests, as well as six drivers.

The scope of the project and the details of the testing and development system don’t reveal much about Apple’s ambitions or strategy in this market. Others on the California DMV’s list include startups, suppliers and companies still in stealth, at various stages of the development process. For Apple, this could easily be an experimentation that never results in any kind of product – a step up from filing a patent application, essentially, but still galaxies removed from, say, reports that production lines are spinning up for the next iPhone.

Still, the documentation provides some more substance to the initial DMV license grant, and strongly suggests that keeping a close eye on the DMV’s next public release of its disengagement reports from vehicle testers is a good idea.

Top image depicts a Lexus RX450h as used by Apple per DMV documents, but a later model. Credit: Lexus.