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Squad of Apple car staffers jump ship to self-driving startup Zoox

A group of 17 Apple engineers said to be working on Apple's automotive ambitions has reportedly left the company for self-driving company Zoox after Apple scaled back plans.

According to an account published on Wednesday by Bloomberg, the 17 engineers that left specialize in braking, suspension, and other mechanical automotive systems. The staffers originally came to Apple from traditional car makers, and weren't home-grown talent.

According to sources familiar with the matter, the engineers that departed found themselves less engaged with the process than previous. Apple has reportedly dialed back car plans, and is using the technology for employee shuttles, rather than having a consumer product ready in the short term.

Startup Zoox is based in Menlo Park, Calif, and has obtained $290 million in funding since July 2015. The company self-describes as a "robotics company pioneering autonomous mobility as-a-service."

Future ambitions for Zoox are to build a "fully automated, electric vehicle fleet and the supporting ecosystem required to bring the service to market at scale."

Zoox has also poached some of Apple's supply chain specialists over the last two years, according to Bloomberg.

Reports circulated earlier in August that Apple will partner with an established automaker on a self-driving shuttle testbed for use on the new Apple Park headquarters complex. Apple is reportedly responsible for suppling autonomous driving technology, while an as yet unnamed car maker provides a commercial vehicle fleet.

Dubbed PAIL, an acronym for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop, the pilot program will carry Apple employees from one Silicon Valley office to another. Exactly when the driverless shuttles will hit the road is unknown.

After longtime exec Bob Mansfield assumed control of Apple's "Project Titan" car initiative last year, the team was profoundly cut back to necessary personnel only as the project refocused on software and supporting solutions. Apple is now rebuilding the group, but with a renewed emphasis on specialists in autonomous systems, not car production — emphasized by Wednesday's report of departures.

Apple has obtained a self-driving car permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and in in the process of testing of its autonomous driving technology using a small fleet of Lexus RX450h SUVs.