In one of the worst kept secrets in tech, Apple have finally come clean about their plans to build an autonomous car. In a letter sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Apple finally admit they are ‘excited about automation in numerous fields, including transportation.’

It also said there were ‘significant societal benefits of automated vehicles’ which sounds like something Apple would want to leverage.

According to Apple, the letter was send to the NHTSA in order to prevent the body introducing too many rules and regulations that would hinder the development of autonomous cars. The five-page letter was apparently written by Steve Kenner, Apple’s Director of Product Integrity.

The letter asks for companies to share crash and near miss data so all could benefit. It also says that this data should not compromise owner confidentiality, which is a big concern for the future of autonomous vehicles. Anonymized data sharing could significantly help both the industry and consumers and is something the industry has to take a long hard look at.

The letter also sets the scene as it says Apple is: ‘investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems’ and wants a say in how the industry moves forward as a whole, including contributing to best practices.

Apple has already registered some web domains that hint at a potential vehicular future, including apple.car, apple.cars and apple.auto. Registered back in January, these domains are currently not active, so who knows what’s going on behind the scenes?

With most automakers already working on autonomous technology and Google way ahead with its cars, Apple has a lot of ground to make up if it is to compete. After Apple withdrew from a joint action with Ford, speculation was that they would pull back from cars and concentrate instead on the technology that controls them. This letter seems to contradict that and instead leads us to believe that instead, Apple wanted to go it alone and develop their own vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles are a way off as yet. Most automakers are introducing some of the tech into their normal vehicles for now which will do two things. It improves safety for current vehicles while also providing real-life product development ready for when they take over driving. Tech such as autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane departure were all designed for autonomous cars but in the meantime benefit all drivers.

Like it or not, autonomous cars are coming. While it will be a decade or so yet at least before they outnumber driven cars, it is the way the industry is going.