California approves limited testing of self-driving cars without steering wheels or backup drivers

By Roger Fingas

Califonia Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill allowing self-driving vehicles to be tested in the state without manual controls or human backup drivers, in a move that could aid Apple's own efforts in the field.

The new rules apply only to a pilot project by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, being run at GoMentum Station -- formerly the Concord Naval Weapons Station -- and at a business park in San Ramon.

Companies like Honda and Otto Motors are currently testing self-driving vehicles at GoMontenum, and the CCTA has said that both Apple and Google have expressed interest in doing likewise.

While self-driving cars are in testing around the U.S., and even in real-world service in Pittsburgh, these have generally kept steering wheels and backup drivers, owing to both existing laws and concerns about the technology's imperfections. At some point, though, self-driving cars will have to operate independently, for instance allowing ride-hailing services to ditch most of their human workforce. Carmakers have shown off concepts that remove the standard cockpit for more interior space.

The exact state of Apple's self-driving initiative -- known as Project Titan -- is uncertain. Under new head Bob Mansfield the project is thought to be focused purely on self-driving systems, rather than building a full-fledged car. At the same time, contract manufacturer Magna Steyr is believed to have about a dozen engineers working with Apple, and the iPhone maker is rumored to be interested in buying self-balancing motorcycle startup Lit Motors.