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Apple has been granted a license for testing autonomous vehicles in California, marking the formal launch of its race with the likes of Uber, Alphabet and Tesla to define the future of driverless transportation.

The permit was revealed with Apple’s appearance on the list of approved companies on the California automotive regulator’s website on Friday morning.

Apple’s secretive automotive research project has been underway for more than two years now. Several months ago, Apple abandoned near-term efforts to build an electric vehicle and refocused its development work on creating the autonomous systems that underpin self-driving cars, people familiar with the situation have said.

Apple is the 30th company to receive an autonomous testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, alongside auto makers such as Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors, as well as suppliers including Delphi and Bosch and start-ups such as Zoox, Drive.ai and Plus.ai.

A DMV spokesperson said that Apple has been licensed to test three vehicles, all of which are a 2015 Lexus RX450h, with six drivers. Companies testing through the California programme often start with a smaller number of permits before gradually increasing them. Tesla and GM both have more than 20 autonomous testing vehicles on the roads of Silicon Valley’s home state while Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving division, has several dozen.

An Apple spokesperson on Friday referred back to its statement from December, when the company first publicly acknowledged its plans to develop self-driving cars with a letter to the US national highways regulator about the regulation of autonomous driving.

At that time, Apple said it was “investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems” with an eye on “many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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