While Google (News - Alert)'s self-driving car project is known far and wide, a new development in this space ranks on the “should have seen it coming” list, though many may not have. The race for the self-driving car is heating up, as Apple (News - Alert) has officially begun working on one of its own.
Reports suggest that the development is actually fairly far along, as Apple is said to be looking for locations to actually test the car in the San Francisco Bay area. Back in May, parts of Apple's Special Projects team met with officials at GoMentum Station to see about such opportunities. GoMentum Station is actually a former naval base, the Concord naval weapons station that's being repurposed into a testing ground for self-driving cars and similar vehicles. GoMentum Station comprises 2,100 acres of space, which represents a little over 3.28 square miles, or more than enough to test a self-driving car. It reportedly comprises 20 miles of paved highways and city streets, and is under guard by the United States military.
Apple, as expressed by reports from engineer Frank Fearon, noted that it was looking for “...an understanding of timing and availability for the space,” as well as how to “...coordinate around other parties who would be using” said space.
Looking at a list of firms that have either already carried out testing on autonomous vehicles at GoMentum Station—or have otherwise been issued permits to test such vehicles on California roads—is a staggering look at just how the market for self-driving cars is shaping up. Honda (News - Alert) and Mercedes-Benz have been seen testing at GoMentum, reports note, while Volkswagen, Tesla and Google have received testing permits, among others. There are plenty of firms in this particular market, and that's going to make for a really interesting selling field once the cars actually hit showroom floors.
While Apple is definitely an unexpected addition to this lineup—it'd be almost like going and buying an HP blender or a television from IBM—it's just one among many now. That brings a whole host of questions into play here; will the Apple car have some particularly noteworthy design characteristic that makes it like the iPhone (News - Alert) of cars? What could such a design characteristic actually be? Would it even be enough to distinguish itself in a market in which it is actually late to the party? Given that a host of other developers have been long since working on a self-driving car, Apple may be looked at as the imitator in this field, and that's not familiar ground for Apple. Does Apple believe its huge name recognition factor will extend to buying cars? Will Apple actually make a car to begin with, or will Apple just be a subcontractor, making the gear that makes the car autonomous and then offering it up to, say, Ford (News - Alert)?
There are plenty of as-yet-unanswered questions in this mix, and as time goes along, more of those answers will likely come to light. But with Apple in the market, it could be a very unstable market, and that could be very good for potential buyers.