Apple ramps up self-driving program as Waymo says its tech improves

FILE PHOTO: A Waymo self-driving car is seen during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Stephen Lam/File Photo

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc logged tens of thousands of miles testing self-driving cars in 2018, up sharply from just hundreds of miles the year before, according to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Apple, which has kept the details of its self-driving program under wraps, put in 79,745 miles of testing in California in 2018, still far short of 10 million miles of testing on roads around the world by Alphabet Inc’s Waymo. But the miles put in by Apple last year far surpassed the 838 miles of testing that the iPhone maker did the previous year.

Apple has only talked in general terms about its interest in self-driving, and the company only secured a California permit to conduct testing in 2017.

Last year Apple re-hired Doug Field to work on its self-driving car project, called Project Titan, with longtime executive Bob Mansfield. Field had left previously left Apple to become senior vice president of engineering at Tesla Inc.

Apple has also referred two former employees to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly stealing trade secrets about the program. Court documents in those cases have revealed that Apple has at least 5,000 employees dedicated to the project.

California regulators on Wednesday released annual data on how often human drivers had to intervene in self-driving systems being tested in the state. Waymo said it did 1.2 million miles of testing in California in 2018, tripling its miles logged from a year before.

In a blog post, Waymo said it had vastly decreased how often its safety drivers must take over from the self-driving system, suggesting its vehicles are getting better at handling a wide variety of driving situations.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis, Alexandria Sage and Paresh Dave in San Francisco, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and David Gregorio

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