For almost 7 years, Apple has threatened to build a car, presumably powered by a battery. The effort was known internally as Project Titan and it has had 5 leaders in those 7 years. There have been rumors that the company was in talks with Hyundai, Kia, Fisker, Canoo, Magna and / or Foxconn about building the Apple Car (since it has no factory or ‘experience in making cars), and she approached both. CATL and BYD on the supply of batteries for the effort. To date, all of these companies have refused to get involved, as far as everyone knows.
What we do know is limited, of course, because it’s almost impossible to get reliable information from inside Apple. What we do know is that a man named Doug Field worked for Ford before he went to Tesla and then from there to Cupertino to lead the Project Titan team. He recently moved away to return to Ford, unhappy, according to sources, that he was forced to report to John Giannandrea, the company’s artificial intelligence manager.
A car or a computer?
This is where the essential contradiction lies at Apple. Does he want to build cars or computers on wheels? According to Autoblog, this conflict is now resolved. When Doug Field arrived in 2018, it was assumed the decision had been made to focus on building automobiles. But now Project Titan is in the hands of Kevin Lynch, the engineer primarily responsible for the success of the Apple Watch.
Lynch has no experience in the automotive or autonomous vehicle manufacturing industry, but Apple has hired former Tesla executives like Michael Schwekutsch and Stuart Bowers to fill key positions in the Project Titan program. Earlier this year he also hired Ulrich Kranz, who was previously an executive at Canoo and helped oversee the development of BMW’s electric cars. Since the transition to Lynch, Apple has focused significantly on making an autonomous car suitable for robotaxi service rather than a car for sale to individual customers.
From today, autonomous driving is the order of the day; acceleration, cornering and braking are out. According to people who are eager to talk about Project Titan but don’t want to identify themselves because they’re not supposed to talk about it, the latest concept versions of a possible Apple Car don’t have a steering wheel, only a steering device that can be activated in an emergency. It’s a bit shocking, because that’s exactly where Google was before it turned its self-driving car program into a new division called Waymo 10 years ago.
Full autonomy by 2025
Insiders say Apple’s goal is to have fully autonomous cars ready by 2025. It’s ambitious. Waymo has been working on full autonomy for almost 20 years. Tesla has been doing the same since rolling out the HW1 package in 2014. Waymo has suffered the loss of several of its engineers, and Uber is pulling out of the race altogether after agreeing to sell its autonomous driving division last year.
Apple is said to have designed its own stand-alone computer chip based on the processors used for the iPhone, iPad and Mac. It intends to start modernizing the new chip in its California autonomous car test fleet and begin real-world testing next year. This chip is mainly composed of neural processors capable of handling the artificial intelligence necessary for autonomous driving. It will be equipped with a sophisticated cooling system to remove excess heat from the processor while the cars are running.
Safety is the key
Safety is a major concern for Apple, which is seeking to integrate more robust protections into its autonomous driving system than those offered by Tesla and Waymo. This effort will include the creation of multiple layers of redundancy – the ability to activate backup systems when needed to avoid safety and control system failures.
Apple is actively seeking to hire engineers to test and develop security features. “The Special Projects Group is looking for an accomplished Mechanical Engineer to lead the development of mechanical systems with safety critical functions,” read a recent job listing from Apple. “You will use your passion for understanding things to help design security systems and to lead the testing and countermeasures of those systems. “
As part of its efforts to accelerate the project, Apple is recruiting more engineers in autonomous driving and car equipment. CJ Moore, the former director of autonomous driving software at Tesla, has already moved to Cupertino. Apple also brought in a climate systems expert from Volvo, a manager from Daimler Trucks, battery systems engineers from Karma Automotive and other automakers, a sensor engineer from Cruise, automotive safety engineers from Joyson. Safety Systems and several Tesla engineers. Years ago, Elon Musk joked that Apple was the place where former Tesla engineers went to die.
The company is also hiring software engineers to work on “human interaction experiences with autonomous technology,” according to a job listing from Apple, suggesting it is in the process of developing the car’s user interface. The list implies that the software under development will be based on technology similar to the iPhone operating system.
If there is an Apple Car, it will likely be compatible with the combined charging system, allowing it to use the ever-expanding global network of CCS chargers. That would be a departure for Apple, which likes to use proprietary charging systems for the iPhone and Apple Watch.
What economic model?
Apple has internally debated several different business models for its car, including creating an autonomous fleet that would compete with Uber, Lyft, Cruise, and Waymo. The company has discussed an external design similar to that used by Canoo if it takes the fleet approach.
Getting to this point will not be easy. Apple’s car project has suffered from development challenges, leadership struggles, layoffs, and delays in its seven-year existence. Above all, it suffered from the indecisiveness of management at the highest level of the company. As Forrest Gump might tell Apple management, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not likely to find yourself there.”
Is Apple really going to operate a fleet of self-driving electric cars as part of a transport-as-a-service system? If so, will it have a dashboard that looks like an iPhone? And who is going to build it, maintain it, charge it, clean it and wash it from time to time? The real question, however, is whether it will be available by 2025? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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