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Self-driving test cars with remote control backup could hit California roads in April

If approved, new Californian regulations could allow companies like Apple to test their self-driving platforms with remote backup, instead of putting a human behind the wheel.

The regulations are likely to be approved Feb. 26, and take effect after a month-long public notice period, Reuters reported on Friday. During that wait, companies wanting to take advantage would be able to submit applications.

In theory, a single remote operator could oversee several self-driving cars. That might make things much more cost-efficient for both small startups and large corporations, since companies would no longer have to divert engineers or other staff for ride-alongs.

The head of one startup, Zoox's Tim Kentley-Klay, noted that when self-driving vehicles become standard with ridehailing services, those companies will have to have some sort of remote control system in place anyway — whether to help customers or deal with technical problems.

Apple currently has at least 27 self-driving Lexus testbeds on California roads. That still puts it behind some rivals, such as Alphabet's Waymo, which has hundreds of vehicles in several states and is racing towards the goal of a commercial launch.

In fact Apple's ambitions in the autonomous space are still unclear. The company was at one point considering making its own electric car, but it has since refocused the project to develop a platform. It may be aiming at the ridehailing market, likely in partnership with one or more outside businesses.