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Apple Car project troubled by management demos and uncertain schedule

The Apple Car project has suffered repeated setbacks throughout its development caused in part by a need to constantly prove its worthiness to management, a report claims, with Apple spending a lot of the last eight years struggling to keep the effort on a positive trajectory.

Apple has been working on some form of automotive project for a long time, with it rumored to range from car design to the creation of self-driving systems. In a profile of the project as a whole, it seems that the attempt to impact the automotive industry is on rocky ground.

In one key example in the article by The Information, Apple used a number of prototype self-driving vehicles to travel 40 miles through Montana in August 2021. The project, which was filmed via drones, was for the creation of a polished video for upper Apple management, including CEO Tim Cook, to demonstrate it was still progressing nicely.

While the video demonstration was a success, including demonstrating that vehicles could drive without needing high-definition three-dimensional road maps over the journey, it was short-lived. The same vehicles traveling in Silicon Valley still suffered from issues, including lane issues and hitting curbs.

The article, based on interviews with 20 people who worked on the project, goes on to say it was an example of the problems caused by "constantly-shifting goals" and the "revolving door of leaders," in turn caused by an uncertainty of the project itself.

The employee changes have been numerous, including March rumors that it was dissolved. High-profile exits include Director of Machine Learning Ian Goodfellow and automotive engineer C.J. Moore in May,

The example also demonstrated how engineers "waste precious time choreographing demonstrations" along known routes, proving the technology works in specific places but practically nowhere else.

"If you spend enough money, you can get almost any fixed route to work," explained former Uber self-driving vehicle engineer Arun Venkatadri. "But what isn't shown is whether you can build your self-driving software in a scalable fashion and whether you can operate in a reasonably broad area."

There has also been supposed skepticism from upper management about the project as a whole, which has reportedly cost more than a billion dollars per year in research and development. Sources say Cook's tendency to distance himself from product designs and a resistance to visiting the Project Titan offices is supposedly hurting the program, and that Cook's unwillingness to commit to mass production has frustrated project senior executives.

Software chief Craig Federighi has also reportedly been skeptical about the project. Meanwhile, amid ridicule over changes in leadership, managers within Apple have allegedly warned employees to keep away from the project entirely.