The Apple car might not be an actual car. It might just be a set of software and hardware systems to enable autonomous driving. Whatever it is, Apple has been testing it on public roads in California. MacRumors has posted a video provided by one of its readers, which shows a white Lexus RX450h SUV with autonomous driving systems placed on the vehicle.

Apple Car Prototype
Image Credit: MacRumors / YouTube video (screenshot)

Apple has to report the progress publicly

In the video, you can see an Apple employee behind the wheel to keep a check while the vehicle drives itself smoothly on the 101 North in Palo Alto. Apple’s test vehicles have previously been photographed around the San Francisco Bay area. The latest video gives us a clear look at the Lexus vehicles Apple is using to test its self-driving systems.

Apple’s Lexus RX450h SUV uses at least two radar emitters, a Velodyne 64-channel Lidar, and multiple camera sensors to help the vehicle navigate. The test vehicles feature a Logitech steering and pedals to actuate drive-by-wire, according to the Apple car training documents that were leaked last month. The training manual included topics such as taking control of the vehicles at tight U-turns, high-speed driving, lane changes, and sudden brakes.

Last month, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California granted Apple permission to test the so-called Apple car using three 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs and six drivers. After the permit, the tech giant wasted no time getting the test vehicles on public roads. Though Apple acknowledged in a letter to the NHTSA last year that it was investing in machine learning and automated systems, it has revealed little about the autonomous car project.

Now that the company is testing the vehicles on public roads, it is required to file disengagement reports providing details on the testing process and any accidents that might occur. It means the company will have to reveal to the DMV how much progress it is making on the project. The tech giant has asked the DMV to change the rules governing what data needs to be included in the disengagement reports.

Apple car: Mansfield needs to prove its viability by 2017-end

The iPhone maker has been working on autonomous driving technology for almost three years. The company was previously rumored to launch a full-fledged Apple car. After witnessing technical challenges and the departure of senior employees, the company shifted its focus to developing the self-driving car technology under the leadership of Bob Mansfield. Tim Cook has given Mansfield until the end of 2017 to prove the viability of the project.

It is unclear at this point whether the Cupertino company would eventually build its own cars or simply sell the autonomous driving technology to established automakers that would implement it in their vehicles. Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty predicts that the global autonomous driving industry will be worth $2.6 trillion by 2030, and Apple would certainly want a piece of that.

The complete transportation experience

Recently, UBS Securities analyst Steven Milunovich spoke to two Apple experts – Horace Dediu of Asymco and Neil Cybart of Above Avalon – to gain a perspective on where the Apple car project might be headed. Cybart and Dediu believe that Apple is looking to offer the entire transportation experience rather than just building a self-driving system or a full-fledged car.

Cybart told UBS Securities that Apple was pouring money into artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, machine learning, mapping, and other futuristic technologies to develop a comprehensive transportation platform. Apple has traditionally focused on controlling both the software and hardware to offer the best experience. Car ownership is expected to decline with the rise of ride-hailing and autonomous driving. Apple could offer a complete transportation experience to users with a large fleet of autonomous cars. User experience has always been of utmost importance to Apple.

Who will be Apple’s Foxconn for cars?

To offer exceptional user experience, the company will have to build an actual vehicle, combining software and hardware, says Loup Ventures managing director Gene Munster. Apple has little experience in manufacturing. Even its smartphones and tablets are made by Asian contract manufacturers. To make something as complex as a car, Apple will have to integrate deeply with an established car maker. In short, it has to find a Foxconn for cars.

Apple has been exploring the automobile industry for years. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has called the Apple car project an “open secret.” The Cupertino company has been offering the CarPlay infotainment system to automakers. It has invested $1 billion in the Chinese taxi-hailing service Didi Chuxing, and has purchased large real estate properties in the Silicon Valley for the car project.