Last week, it emerged that Apple is in the process of building its own self-driving car in Silicon Valley, and is actively looking for locations near San Francisco to test drive it. Engineers from Apple’s Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station in May, a former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high security testing area for self-driving cars. Located just 40 miles North of Silicon Valley, it is an ideal location for companies who want to do their testing in a local and secure environment.
GoMentum Station has already hosted Honda and Mercedes-Benz for tests of its autonomous vehicles. It has 20 miles of paved highways and city streets, sits behind barbed wire and is guarded by the military. Officials claim it is “the largest secure test facility in the world for the testing and commercialization of connected vehicle (CV) applications and autonomous vehicles (AV) technologies to define the next generation of transportation network infrastructure”.
GoMentum’s facilities boast a wide array of types of road, from highway overpasses to cattle grids and railway crossings. The range of road surfaces and obstacles allow companies to thoroughly test their autonomous vehicles in a wide range of everyday and more unusual settings, essential to testing a car’s robustness and working out any necessary fixes.
It seems as if Apple’s autonomous car is near ready to test drive. Documents obtained by The Guardian newspaper under a public records act request show that Apple is in negotiation with GoMentum over timings and availability for use of their space. Rumors about an autonomous Apple car have been swirling, but the documents seen by The Guardian for the first time confirm the existence of a self-driving electric car, codenamed Project Titan.
Apple is joining an already crowded field with Uber, Google and others all heavily investing in developing autonomous cars. Apple recently hired the head of Mercedes Benz’s Silicon Valley research arm, and Apple chief executive Tim Cook has been meeting with car executives and touring other facilities for months.
However, Apple’s work remains cloaked in secrecy. Apple made GoMentum Station employees sign a non-disclosure agreement when they began talks. Frank Fearon, the Apple engineer most in contact with GoMentum, even signs his emails with a question mark icon. Also, the company has not sought permits from California’s department of motor vehicles to test-drive autonomous cars on the state’s public roads as many other carmakers have, such as Google and Mercedes-Benz. This process requires disclosing technical and commercial details, which the secretive Apple may not want to do.