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Apple, BMW bet big on autonomous cars

Apple has confirmed rumours that it is working on technology to develop self-driving cars, while car maker BMW will accelerate its shift toward autonomous and electrified vehicles by opening a self-driving test center in Germany.

In a letter to US transport regulators, Apple said it was “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”.

“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal,” Apple’s director of product integrity Steve Kenner states in the letter.

There have long been rumours about the firm’s plans but it has not publicly confirmed them until now. The tech firm has already registered several car-related internet domains, including apple.car and apple.auto.

The letter offered no details of the project, instead highlighting the “significant societal benefits of automated vehicles”, which it described as a life-saving technology, potentially preventing millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year.

Toward the end of the letter, the tech giant makes a point to say that “established manufacturers” and “new entrants” should be treated equally “to maximize the safety benefits of automated vehicles, encourage innovation, and promote fair competition”. Otherwise, newcomers may be at a disadvantage, since they would have to apply for regulatory exemptions.

Meanwhile, German carmaker BMW said it will test about 40 vehicles with self-driving functions in Munich’s inner city and then expand the project to other cities, BMW executives said on Friday.

Uber’s rapid growth has prompted BMW to consider how autonomous vehicles may help them accelerate their own push into pay-per-use transport.

“Ride-hailing is nothing more than manual autonomous driving,” Tony Douglas, head of strategy for BMW’s mobility services said. “Once you dispense with the driver you have a license to print money.”

“Someone else spent the money to educate the market and then we came in with a cool product. We will not be the largest, but we can be the coolest,” Douglas said.

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