Apple’s Autonomous Cars Require a Lot of Human Intervention

Per the California DMV, Google's require much less.

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles released its annual report outlining how frequently humans had to take over driving responsibilities from various companies’ autonomous-vehicle prototypes while testing on public roads. As you might expect, if you measure by the number of miles per disengagement, Google’s Waymo is at the top. But you might not expect Apple to be at the bottom of the list—as in the very bottom.

Bloomberg reports that Waymo’s prototypes were able to cover 11,000 miles between disengagements, with GM’s Cruise coming in a distant second with 5,200 miles. And Apple? Apple’s autonomous prototypes clocked in at an incredibly brief 1.1 miles per disengagement. That means Waymo’s vehicles travel 10,000 times farther than Apple’s before encountering a situation they couldn’t handle without human help.

To be fair, miles per disengagement isn’t the only metric that matters and doesn’t begin to tell a complete picture regarding autonomous-tech development. A mile of highway driving is a lot less difficult for a vehicle to handle than a mile of city driving, and you’ll probably see a lot more disengagements in poor weather testing than you will when it’s clear and sunny. It’s probably also true that Apple is running many fewer developmental vehicles than other companies, which adds weight to each individual vehicle’s performance. One company may have different standards than another for deciding how much risk it’s willing to take to avoid disengagements. But the fact that Apple’s prototypes have been disengaging every mile is still alarming.

The news comes just after Apple’s decision last month to lay off 200 people working on its self-driving car project, known internally as Project Titan. It’s also a great reminder that autonomous cars still have a way to go before they enter the mainstream.