After months of speculation that the company is developing automotive technology, Apple has leapt into the war for self-driving cars by obtaining a test permit from California regulators.

The permit allows Apple to begin testing up to three Lexus SUVs similar to the type that Google uses for its autonomous cars. By obtaining clearance from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, Apple is signaling that it is serious about pushing forward with self-driving technology despite reports last fall that it was scaling back its ambitions.

California’s DMV disclosed the permit on its website, which lists several dozen other companies that are testing self-driving technology. The group includes BMW, Ford, Honda, Nissan and others. Uber has also said that it will seek certification for testing.

Like those other companies, Apple’s test vehicles will have human drivers behind the wheel when they go out on public roads, according to Bloomberg News.

Apple’s penchant for designing sleek hardware got many people excited for the prospect of a vehicle designed by the company. Last April, Motor Trend published what it billed as an exclusive set of Apple car renderings – but what was dramatically hyped on social media turned out to be speculative mock-ups by outside artists.

But with its permit, Apple is leaping into an increasingly competitive race to build the world’s first mainstream self-driving car. The technology has the potential to reshape how people work, play and commute; proponents say automating vehicles will help reduce congestion and prevent crashes caused by human error, which according to federal statistics account for 95 percent of all accidents.

Apple declined to comment, referring to public remarks that it had submitted to federal highway authorities in November on its research into automation.

“There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry,” Apple wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.