Apple has been toying with autonomous cars for years and was thought to have given up on the project. Now it is getting back into gear.
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Apple’s on-again, off-again plans to develop autonomous car technology appear to be slowly ramping back up again – as plans to partner with Korean giant Hyundai-Kia appear to have stalled.

An investigative report by Automotive News USA has unearthed autonomous testing data filed by tech giant Apple to Californian authorities.

Car companies and technology providers must file reports to authorities in California – one of the few jurisdictions in the US that permits testing of autonomous cars – detailing how many times a human had to intervene during real-world evaluations and development drives.

Data unearthed by Automotive News USA revealed Apple more than doubled real-world test of its self-driving technology in 2020 versus 2019, though it was only a fraction of the miles the company clocked up in 2018.

Automotive News USA reported Apple prototype autonomous cars covered 18,805 miles on California roads in 2020 versus just 7544 miles in 2019 – and just short of 80,000 miles in 2018.

Interestingly, in 2020 Apple reported 130 driver interventions (once every 145 miles) versus 64 driver interventions (once every 118 miles) in 2019.

In 2018, Apple reported a driver intervention for approximately every one mile of driving during almost 80,000 test miles.

Demonstrating just how far behind the rest of the industry Apple is, figures sourced by Automotive News USA show testing of General Motors’ autonomous tech required 27 driver intervention in 770,000 miles (once every 28,520 miles).

Apple has since hired more experts, including former Tesla and General Motors engineers.

Automotive News USA estimates Apple won’t have an autonomous car in showrooms “for at least five years” – and even then, that’s only if the new business goes ahead.

Earlier this week a technical tie-up with Korean car giant Hyundai-Kia apparently staled before it got going. Initial reports claimed Hyundai-Kia was going to manufacture the vehicle on behalf of Apple.

Meantime, Automotive News USA reports, Apple has recommenced hiring experts from Tesla and General Motors and other automotive suppliers.

If an Apple Car does ever become a reality, it could still be had a decade away. One of the reasons for the delay: the profits margins in the automotive industry are minuscule compared to technology. Most of the world's biggest car brands operate on between 2 and 10 per cent profit margins, a fraction of what technology companies report.