Apple is reportedly in the process of acquiring once-promising self-driving shuttle firm Drive.ai in a deal that will bolster the tech giant's own autonomous vehicle initiative with seasoned engineers and segment experts.
Citing people familiar with the matter, The Information reports Apple is structuring the deal as an "acqui-hire," meaning engineers and other key personnel are targets of the buy. As with most Apple acquisitions, the Cupertino company is looking for talent and intellectual property, not brand value.
Apple did not confirm the buy with its usual boilerplate PR response, suggesting negotiations are ongoing.
"We don't comment on speculation," an Apple spokesman said.
Drive.ai was founded in 2015 by graduate students from Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Lab. Based in Mountain View, Calif., the firm in 2018 launched pilot programs in Texas to test its autonomous shuttle vehicle.
"Drive.ai uses artificial intelligence to create self-driving transportation solutions that improve the state of mobility today," according to its website.
According to the report, Drive.ai raised $77 million from investors including New Enterprise Associates and Nvidia, the latter being a major player in automotive artificial intelligence. The funding rounds were apparently not enough to keep the company independent.
If and when the deal goes through, Apple will gain scores of engineers well-versed in the field of self-driving cars. Drive.ai boasted a roster of more than 100 engineers as of February, included specialists in neural networks, the report said.
Apple's self-driving car project is something of an open secret in Silicon Valley. Initially in development under the "Project Titan" banner, the program sought to create a branded car from the ground up, but Apple scaled back its ambitious goal for the Apple car project in late 2016 after hitting a number of snags. The Titan team has since refocused attention to autonomous vehicle subsystems.
Work on Titan is still ongoing and as of April Apple had 69 self-driving test vehicles on California roads. The company is also actively recruiting new talent for the project and recently poached powertrain expert Michael Schwekutsch from Tesla.