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iDrive you wherever you want

Is an Apple Car about to hit the road?

The California technology colossus behind the iPhone has confirmed its interest in self-driving cars, but experts are trying to deduce the secretive company's plans for traction in a market where others have been speeding along.

In the middle of last month, Apple chief executive Tim Cook revealed that the company is focusing on software that powers self-driving vehicles, referring to it as "by far the most important project in artificial intelligence".

Mr Cook depicted electric vehicles, self-driving cars and ride-sharing as major forces shaping the future of the automobile.

Analysts said that driverless cars that can be summoned on demand to whisk people where they wish when they want represent a gigantic potential market opportunity.

Even before Mr Cook's public remarks on the topic, clues were coming to light.

Apple recently obtained a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test self-driving cars.

Pictures of a Lexus sport utility vehicle rigged with sensors leaving the Apple campus have ricochetted about the Internet, along with reports that the company has amassed a team of automotive engineers.

After a billion-dollar investment by Apple in Chinese ride-sharing colossus Didi, Mr Cook referred to unspecified strategic moves the companies could make together over time.

If Apple is indeed intent on merging into the self-driving car market, it remains to be seen how it will navigate that course. Morgan Stanley said in an analyst's note that Apple's options include partnering with ride-share firms, car rental companies or even automakers.

Unconfirmed reports surfaced this week that Department of Motor Vehicle documents show Apple is renting a small number of Lexus sport-utility vehicles from American car rental service Hertz to test self-driving software and sensors.- AFP

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