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Apple just sent the strongest hint yet that it’s working on a self-driving car

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A letter to federal traffic regulators on its automated vehicle policy

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Apple, which has been infuriatingly secretive about it’s efforts to build a self-driving car, has sent the strongest hint yet about its so-called Project Titan. In a letter submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the tech giant states that it is “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”

The letter is Apple’s official comment on the federal government’s automated vehicle guidelines, released last September, which has already drawn feedback from many companies working on autonomous cars like Google and Ford. And speaking of Ford, Apple’s letter is signed by a man named Steven Kenner, the company’s head of product integrity who up until very recently was the global director of automotive safety at Ford.

Apple has been working on Project Titan for several years, but has never formally acknowledged it. Lately, the autonomous car project seems to be in flux. Recent reporting suggests that the company is no longer attempting to build its own electric car to compete with companies like Tesla, but is instead focused on developing self-driving software it can deploy in partnership with existing carmakers.

This letter comes amid news that hundreds of members of Apple's 1,000-employee-strong car team have been reassigned, let go, or have left of their own volition. The shift toward software is part of a new plan from longtime Apple executive Bob Mansfield, who came out of retirement to lead the Titan division after former project head Steven Zadesky left the company earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the federal government is continuing to collect feedback from tech companies and car manufacturers on its recently released automated vehicle policy. A lobbying group representing some of the main players in the self-driving car space, such as Google, Uber, Ford, Volvo, and Lyft, are pushing back against the government’s request for companies to share data and safety specifications. But Apple says it would be ok with sharing data.

“Apple agrees that companies should share de-identified scenario and dynamics data from crashes and near-misses,” Kenner writes in the letter. “By sharing data, the industry will build a more comprehensive dataset than any one company could create alone.”

That said, Apple also requests that the government allow for “regulatory flexibility” in order to encourage innovation. In other words, the company agrees with its peers in the tech and auto world that the feds should keep the guidelines voluntary and avoid passing any concrete rules or mandates.