Apple has finally confirmed its interest in self-driving cars through a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The letter, written by Apple’s director of product integrity Steven Kenner, said the company is “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation” and said there are “significant societal benefits of automated vehicles.”

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Apple also called for the regulator to not introduce too many rules that would harm the emerging industry. It made particular reference to newcomers in the automotive industry being blocked from entering, something Apple does not want to happen.

Apple’s worst kept secret

It is the first public recognition from Apple of its self-driving plans, which is great considering it may be one of the worst kept secrets in Silicon Valley. Their driverless car efforts have allegedly been on the go for more than two years according to sources close to the company.

In fact, their hidden efforts have attracted competitive attention. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, slammed the iPhone giant earlier this year for poaching talent from his company to work on the secretive automotive project.

Details of Apple’s car are still under wraps and we expect it to stay that way for a few years, as the company continues to acquire more talent, engineers, and partners. Rumors suggest that the company may take more of a software approach to the self-driving project, leaving the hardware and manufacturing to an automotive partner.

Apple may find itself far behind some of the other players in the industry, if it takes too long to launch its autonomous car. Tesla already has thousands of AutoPilot testers, Google has driven over one million miles autonomously, and most automotive companies are pushing their own programs in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.