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Why Apple Is Hiring NASA Staffers

April 25, 2017, 4:41 PM UTC
File photo of Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook at an event for students to learn to write computer code at the Apple store in the Manhattan borough of New York
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook speaks during an event for students to learn to write computer code at the Apple store in the Manhattan borough of New York in this December 9, 2015 file photo. Apple Chief Executive Officer Cook said his company opposed a demand from a U.S. judge to help the FBI break into an iPhone recovered from one of the San Bernardino shooters. Cook said that the demand threatened the security of Apple's customers and had "implications far beyond the legal case at hand." REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/Files TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Apple is hiring former NASA and Tesla employees as part of a self-driving car initiative, according to several reports.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) last week mistakenly revealed the names of Apple employees who were granted permission to act as “driver/operators” during the iPhone maker’s self-driving car testing across the state. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal and Business Insider, which both obtained a copy of the Apple testing permit, published the names of the six Apple employees who can act as drivers.

CNBC found that most of those Apple employees previously worked at NASA and electric carmaker Tesla.

Although Apple has declined to comment about its plans for self-driving cars, news reports over the last few years have suggested that the company is working on such technology. Whether Apple is developing its own car, however, is debated. Most recent reports say Apple is instead focused on technology that it could sell to carmakers to put into their self-driving cars.

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Earlier this month, the California DMV granted Apple a permit to operate self-driving cars across the state. Apple joins several other companies including Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, in testing the technology.

Apple has been quietly hiring employees from Tesla and other carmakers for quite some time. Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has gone so far as to call Apple a “Tesla Graveyard,” where some of, what he said, underperforming former employees go to work on cars.

Apple’s newly revealed hires have impressive resumes. One of the employees on the California permit is Shilpa Gulati, who describes herself as an “experienced roboticist,” according to CNBC. She previously worked at conglomerate Bosch on “motion planning algorithms for self-driving cars,” and also helped create a vehicle that will be used to explore one of Jupiter’s moons.

Jeremy Ma, who is also listed on the permit, worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, according to CNBC. Christopher Gadda previously worked at Tesla in an unidentified role.

All of the Apple employees are cleared by the state to sit behind the wheel of the company’s self-driving car technology and to test its performance. They’ll also analyze how well the technology behaves in real-world driving circumstances.