Cupertino, California - Apple has finally admitted that it is investing “heavily” in building driverless cars.

Having made billions from bringing iPhones, iPods and iPads to the masses, the Silicon Valley giant is racing to bring self-driving cars to the roads.

The firm said it “was excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”, in a letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Senior executive Steve Kenner said the company wanted to ‘help define best practices for the industry’ and urged the regulator not to penalise firms testing driverless cars on public roads.

Apple said it was “investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems”.

Following years of speculation the letter is the first time the tech giant has openly acknowledged it plans to develop self-driving cars.

The company has an electric car project codenamed Titan which has been up and running for two years. But there were reports over the autumn that the firm was going cold on the project, sacking dozens of employees.

It is not known whether Apple intends to build its own autonomous car or – as some experts have suggested is more likely – focus on developing the underlying technology for these vehicles.

A host of the world’s biggest car manufacturers and technology giants – including Ford, Nissan and Google – are rushing to develop the first fully automated car. They are expected to be on sale and on the roads, in certain countries at least, by 2020.

But campaigners have raised safety fears over these vehicles, while insurance companies have called for legislation to ensure drivers are not blamed for crashes if the technology is at fault.