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US smartphone giant granted permit to test self-driving vehicles in California

US technology colossus Apple has been awarded a permit which allows them to test autonomous vehicles in California. The decision to grant the permit has only served to heighten speculation that Apple is working on self-driving technology and is set to join a growing number of companies with ambitions to offer self-driving vehicles to the masses.

Apple has never publicly declared its intentions to build an electric car or develop an autonomous vehicle, but this latest development in relation to the permit - coupled with the fact the organization has hired a string of auto experts in recent years mean it’s hard to dismiss the obvious and logical theory that they’re preparing to enter the industry. The permit granted to the multinational firm headquartered in California allows Apple to conduct test drives in three vehicles with six drivers according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Chris Theodore, President of consultancy company Theodore & Associates claimed that the permit represents concrete proof that Apple are considering a move to get into the autonomous sector. He said: "This does confirm what's long been rumored: that Apple is at least toying with the idea of getting into the autonomous game in some capacity. This is not necessarily automobiles as initially rumored, but software or possibly hardware associated with autonomous technology.

Apple declined to comment publicly on the permit ruling - instead choosing to redirect press queries to the statement issued by the organization in November when they wrote to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the subject of regulation self-driving vehicles. At the time, Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity conceded that the firm was excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas. In his letter he said: "The firm is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation."

Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously stated that his organization was keen to move beyond integration of Apple smartphones into vehicle infotainment systems, while other Apple executives have thus far remained coy on the subject. The US tech leaders join a growing list of traditional automakers and technology companies to begin test driving cars in the Californian state, as the competition to have the first commercially viable self-driving vehicles on the roads continue to intensify.

A number of companies have expressed their beliefs that the first cars will launch in 2020, but some experts believe it may take much longer due to regulatory challenges.