How is Apple's ($AAPL) self-driving car technology coming along? The tech giant's announcement of developing autonomous car technology raised widespread speculation regarding the type of technology the company would be coming up with, considering that it is a powerhouse of talent and resources.

From Developing Autonomous Car to Just the CarOS

While the initial announcement was regarding a whole autonomous car, the project was later modified to develop autonomous vehicle software systems rather than a whole car. There are many ideas doing the rounds, and these ideas are fueling enthusiasm among analysts who believe that once Apple succeeds in developing the CarOS, the operating system for the autonomous car, it could still end up making the car or tie-up with an auto manufacturer for the purpose.

The technological aspects that Apple's engineers have initially planned for autonomous vehicles include silently operating automatic doors, Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles that would do away with the accelerator and steering wheel, and interior displays incorporating augmented or virtual reality. Spherical wheels enabling autonomous cars to drive sideways have also been conceived, but that's only if Apple actually manages to build its autonomous car.

So how far ahead is Apple in developing the CarOS?

Apple Seems Lagging behind Waymo and Tesla

Apple has recruited Bob Mansfield, the new project head, to lead the effort. Newsoftware experts are being added. There has been greater morale reported by employees. However, in terms of technology, the company could be trailing Alphabet's ($GOOG, $GOOGL) Waymo and Tesla ($TSLA). Tesla is already manufacturing semi-autonomous vehicles, with the latest models also featuring hardware that can accommodate the autonomy software when it gets released.

Waymo holds the credit of having test driven the most autonomous miles, with 3 million miles driven physically and 2.5 billion driven in simulation. With simulation, Waymo can keep advancing the sophistication of its technology.

Apple Can Get There with Its Resources

So can Apple live up to these tech giants? Reputation suggests it can. It will spend $12 billion in autonomous technology R&D this year. The race is on, but the end product could take many years to finally be market-ready. And let's not forget that governmental regulations need to be in place to set autonomous driving standards. The software must live up to the requirements. So we're still looking at some time in the considerable future before the technology hits the streets. By then, Apple would have come up with the goods. It needs to, since it can't afford its tech rivals to get a head start in the market. There's a great revenue opportunity here.

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