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Apple is believed to be working on an electric vehicle project that it plans to launch a few years down the road. The top-secret project is said to be in the works at a hidden lab named "SG5" in Sunnyvale, Calif. Internally, the effort is believed to be known as "Project Titan" and may one day yield an "Apple Car."
● Apple-designed electric car
● Known as "Project Titan"
● Self-driving systems currently being tested
● Development personnel faced major scale back multiple times
● Project faced leadership turmoil regarding direction
● Acquired Drive.AI in 2019
● Car launch expected in 2023 to 2025
Rumors have long suggested Apple is actively working on a variety of different automotive projects that could ultimately lead to an "Apple Car." The entirety of the research falls under the catch-all title "Project Titan."
The term has been used to describe a number of different elements and technologies, but fall into two broad categories: self-driving vehicle systems and car design.
While initial reports pointed towards the creation of an entire Apple-designed vehicle, the titular "Apple Car," the rumors have also indicated a change of focus for Apple. One that pulled it away from the grand design of a full automobile and onto just self-driving systems.
However, many rumors, reports, and patent filings have emerged since that supposed pivot, suggesting the full car design aspect is still alive and becoming more of a central element to Project Titan as a whole.
Designing the "Apple Car"
Initially, “Project Titan” was rumored to involve an electric vehicle called we are calling "Apple Car," delivered by 2019 or 2020. Towards the end of 2015 however, the program experienced "an incredible failure of leadership," according to one source, in which managers fought over where Titan was going. This led to the departure of project leader Steve Zadesky.
The design and technology behind "Project Titan" remained very much in flux, sources said, with Apple at one point considering using BMW's i3 as the basis for its "Apple Car." Apple and BMW have held talks about a potential partnership, though both BMW and Daimler reportedly ended talks with Apple over who might lead the project and own data.
One German report indicated that Apple had a secret car lab in Berlin, staffed by about 15 to 20 "top-class" people from the German auto industry working on issues like "Apple Car" concepts, manufacturing partnerships, and sales/governmental obstacles. A possible manufacturer is the Austrian division of Magna Steyr.
In May 2016, Mansfield is said to have announced the new Titan strategy "in a Silicon Valley auditorium packed with hundreds of Titan employees," explaining that after an evaluation, he decided Apple shouldn't compete directly with Tesla, which already has several electric cars on the market and is working steadily towards full self-driving systems.
The original vision of an "Apple Car" that would detect its driver via fingerprint and then drive them anywhere had transitioned to a partially autonomous car to something more ambitious. However, another factor that may have pulled Apple away from its own car is the automotive supply chain. While Apple is used to being able to exert heavy control over suppliers for devices like the iPhone, the company may have discovered that auto parts makers would be less eager to commit to an "Apple Car," given the deeper expenses involved, and Apple likely producing vehicles in small initial numbers.
The company is meanwhile said to be developing charging infrastructure by hiring engineers and talking technology with firms that supply charging stations. An unknown engineering and construction firm allegedly approached Apple about offering services.
A July 2017 report claimed Apple is working with Chinese firm Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) to research and develop new batteries for automobiles. Few details about the confidentiality agreement were reported, with CATL officially refusing to comment.
Unlike the self-driving element, which is naturally in the public eye, the design efforts of Apple have been kept under wraps for the most part. Aside from rumors, which have even suggested Apple is creating an electric van, the only real indications so far of Apple's design direction have been patent applications.
Based on patent filings, rumors, and speculation, the general appearance of the vehicle could offer some departures from current vehicle design.
Apple's use of sleek lines in other products could be reused in the "Apple Car," as well as wide-swinging doors that eliminate the need for a permanent center door pillar, making openings even larger. Proposals include the use of AR and VR technology, in-screen displays, privacy lighting, and unique sunroof designs, among other suggestions.
The introduction of self-driving systems could further inform the design of the vehicle and result in more radical layouts, as there would be less of a need for conventional seating arrangements.
"Apple Car" Release Speculation
If Apple is intending to actually ship an "Apple Car," there may be a few more years to wait until it is unveiled to the public for the first time.
Reports from 2016 suggested Apple was aiming for a 2020 rollout, but issues forced a delay into 2021, such as the departure of project leader Steve Zadesky.
It was also unclear at the time whether Apple's first attempt at a car will include some level of self-driving capability, though the reporting at the time was just before Apple started its efforts to test the system on public roads.
Noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo proposed in August 2018 Apple will create a shipping consumer product under "Project Titan" by as early as 2023, with the "Apple Car" launch window stretching as far as into 2025. There was no indication as to how the dates were determined by Kuo, but he wrote he expects Apple to take advantage of tectonic shifts in the automotive market.
By leveraging "potentially huge" replacement demands emerging in the sector due to the introduction of new technologies, Kuo believes Apple can take advantage of a car market that is ripe for change, in a similar way to how the smartphone market existed before the iPhone.
The analyst also suggests the vehicle project could help propel Apple towards a $2 trillion valuation.
"Apple Car" features and testing
Kept under the "Project Titan" name due to its closeness to the original car-design concept, Apple's work on self-driving vehicle systems have been the most prominent element of the entire scheme.
Unlike the designs, which are brought up in patent filings and rumors, it is actively known Apple has developed and tested a self-driving system, one that has appeared in public filings with government regulators, and has even been spotted on public roads.
Permits and Legalities
In an early public admission of its automotive ambitions, Apple, in a statement issued to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in November 2016, proposed a policy update that would grant industry newcomers the same opportunities as established manufacturers when it comes to testing on public roads.
Then-director of product integrity at Apple Steve Kenner said the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy paved a safe and flexible path toward the development of automated vehicles, but suggested proposed regulations could be more open for companies new to the industry.
On April 14, 2017, the California Department of Motor Vehicles added Apple to the list of companies granted permission to test self-driving vehicles in the state, a sign that Apple could still be working on "Project Titan" and "Apple Car."
The granting of the Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit allowed Apple to take a self-driving car onto public roads, with companies unable to legally perform such testing without the permit. Apple is believed to have met with the state's DMV in 2015, possibly in discussion of gaining permission for on-the-road testing, but continued testing on private property at the time.
Apple's initial permit covered three vehicles, all Lexus RX540h SUVs, with six drivers serving as backup in case the onboard systems encounter problems. Considering the use of Lexus SUVs, it is probable that Apple is testing just its sensing and AI technology, rather than an entirely new vehicle.
One reason for using existing vehicles for these tests is that driving an "Apple Car" that Apple has created would spoil the surprise for its launch. Publicly showing off a new vehicle design would also directly hand ideas to other car manufacturers, potentially allowing them to innovate on Apple's car before it is unveiled.
As part of its application to the California DMV for permission to test self-driving cars, Apple provided the government agency with documents meant to train potential safety drivers, before the vehicles are taken out onto public roads.
The "Development Platform Specific Training" documents revealed the drivers must pass basic tests before being allowed to set off, with the tests ranging from basic maneuvering to vehicle systems intervention. This includes low-speed and high-speed driving, U-turns, sudden steering input, sudden acceleration, braking, and managing "conflicting turn signal and action" events.
When the vehicle is not being controlled by software, drivers are able to electronically take the wheel via drive-by-wire technology, using a Logitech steering wheel and pedal system fitted in front of the Lexus RX450h's drive controls. Pilots can disengage the autonomous driving system by pressing the brake pedal or grabbing the steering wheel, and should be able to accelerate without overriding the system at all.
The reports that followed being granted permission to test, as well as other coverage of self-driving projects, has prompted Apple to write to the DMV, asking for clarification to changes to the way it reports events.
Specifically, Apple wanted clarification on "disengagement reporting," which are reports generated when the safety driver disengages the self-driving system, such as to avoid accidents or to manage unexpected events. Apple wants to tighten up these reports, as well as to exclude details of planned tests, the end of testing, operational constraints, and other discretionary decisions performed by the the driver.
Apple also asks not to speculate "about future events that have not occured" when reporting incidents that would have happened if the driver had not disengaged.
"Apple believes that public acceptance is essential to the advancement of automated vehicles. Access to transparent and intuitive data on the safety of the vehicles being tested will be central to gaining public acceptance," writes Apple Director of Product Integrity Steve Kenner. "However, the current and proposed disengagement reporting requirements do not achieve this result."
A few years later in February 2019, it was revealed by the DMV that Apple's self-driving car testbed was the worst-performing system on roads in terms of disengagements, in last place among 28 firms testing autonomous vehicles on California roads.
Apple explained to the DMV in a letter the system was designed to be conservative for safety purposes, with it erring towards manual control in a considerable number of instances. Drivers were also instructed to assume control "any time they deem necessary," again due to safety concerns on public roads.
Car and Driver Counts
As of January 2018, the state of California permitted Apple to have 27 self-driving cars running on public roads. While a huge leap from the three Lexus vehicles from April 2017, it is was still far behind the large fleets operated by competing firms.
By March 2018, the fleet grew to 45 vehicles on California roads. The following May, the figures reached 55 test vehicles and 83 authorized driver, and in July, Apple was registered with the California DMV to bring the fleet up to 66 cars, before peaking at 72 vehicles and 144 drivers in November 2018.
In April 2019, data from the California DMV indicated Apple had 69 vehicles and 110 drivers, a reduction in the numbers.
The following August, the same data source showed Apple as having 143 registered pilots, though not the number of cars being used.
In February 2018, the California DMV received approval from the California Office of Administrative Law to set regulations in place to allow companies to test remotely operated autonomous vehicles on public roads. From April 2, the DMV's public testing framework allows for self-driving cars to go on the road without a driver behind the wheel, instead with human "remote" drivers monitoring the drive using a communications link, ready to take control of the car from the onboard systems in the event of an emergency.
Testbeds and Sensors
The first sightings of a vehicle used by Apple for its self-driving car test surfaced in late April 2017, spotted departing an Apple facility.
The initial tests, as anticipated in DMV records, involved adding extra equipment to a pre-existing vehicle. The images confirmed the use of a Lexus RX450h, colored in white, with a number of extra items bolted onto the car.
On the SUV's roof was a Velodyne LiDAR 64-channel unit, bolted to a custom frame, and radar arrays are mounted onto the front and rear bumpers. Cameras in protective housings surround the car's exterior, providing the self-driving system with a 360-degree view of its surroundings.
While the testing documents advised of the use of a Logitech steering wheel and pedal system, the test vehicle itself did not appear to use the items at all. This suggested the extra wheel was just for evaluation purposes, or that Apple has managed to get its self-driving technology working with Lexus' onboard systems, leaving the steering wheel free to be used by the test driver.
A road user spotted what could be an updated version of Apple's self-driving testbed on August 25 the same year. The vehicle was reportedly parked outside of an Apple office in Sunnyvale, California.
It appeared from the photographs that Apple is using the 2016-2017 Lexus RX450h, a newer model of the 2015-edition vehicle previously used for testing. A change in the positioning of the equipment to fit entirely on the roof of the vehicle was spotted at the time, with upgrades and a new look also applied to the test bed.
Though difficult to specify what equipment is being used, it seemed that Apple used a Puck LiDAR sensor from Velodyne, a 16-channel unit that can log 300,000 points per second at a range of up to 100 meters. A total of 14 Pucks appeared to be mounted to the car, with four facing forward, two behind, and two at each corner.
Other equipment on the vehicle included various cameras, a GPS unit with antenna, radio communications equipment, and a distance measuring system. Aside from the central sensor array, five yellow-capped sensors were visible, which could have been compact radar arrays to assist the main sensing system.
Efforts are being stepped up with regards to sensors, with an April 2019 report indicating the company is in talks with component suppliers making parts that could be used in self-driving systems. Apple has reportedly talked to multiple LiDAR sensor suppliers and is apparently evaluating technology on offer while simultaneously working on its own LiDAR hardware.
While this research is more for testing at the moment, the talks could also relate to future manufacturing efforts, including making smaller components that could shrink down the overall collection of sensors to a more manageable size, possibly to one that could be more easily integrated into the "Apple Car's" design.
Potential Partnership with Hertz
A June 2017 report from Bloomberg claims Apple partnered with rental car provider Hertz in order to test out its self-driving vehicle systems. While such systems would have a commercial use for rental cars, such as vehicles automatically driving back to a rental outlet and saving customers from driving them there themselves, it appears the partnership was mostly for testing purposes only.
According to the report, Apple apparently leased a "small fleet of cars" from Hertz subsidiary Donlen for the driving trials, with the Lexus RX450h SUV specifically chosen due to the model already being used by Apple for the project. A later report from CNBC claimed Apple is leasing just six vehicles from Donlen, a small number, but one that would effectively double the number of vehicles Apple was testing on public roads at the time.
It was unclear if the vehicles will be used just by Apple's nominated drivers only, or if Hertz customers could be able to rent the vehicles in question with the driving system installed, but the relative silence suggests members of the public were not involved.
Campus shuttle tests
In August 2017, the New York Times reported Apple was working with an established automaker on a self-driving shuttle testbed. In this case, Apple is said to be providing the autonomous driving technology, while the car manufacturer handles the commercial vehicle fleet.
The project will apparently carry Apple employees between Silicon Valley offices, with the Palo Alto to Infinite Loop route giving the scheme the name PAIL. It is unknown when the vehicles will hit the road but it is likely to be a welcome addition for employees working at the Apple Park campus.
The next year, it was claimed Apple was working with Volkswagen on the project, with the automaker providing T6 Transporter vans. The vehicles would be outfitted with specialized dashboards and seats, with further modifications to on-board computers, sensors, and an electric battery.
Apple's first reported accident involving a self-driving vehicle took place on August 31, 2018. The low-speed accident involved the car being rear-ended by a Nissan Leaf, which was traveling at just 15 miles per hour.
Despite the low speed, both vehicles received "moderate" damage, and there were no serious injuries.
Patents and Applications
As with other Apple products, the company has been keen to make a large number of patent applications in relation to the in-development car and driving systems. In recent years, more of these patents have surfaced, firmly cementing Apple's interest in the field, though stopping short of guaranteeing Apple will actually produce an "Apple Car."
Self Driving patents and safety
An initial example of Apple's work on autonomous vehicles, a patent application surfaced in December 2016 detailing a method of "Collision Avoidance of Arbitrary Polygonal Obstacles."
Able to work in two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, the patent application outlines systems and methods to traverse an environment, without prior knowledge of obstacles. This also takes into account convex and concave objects, moving and stationary obstacles and other things that can affect movement through an area.
For vehicle systems, this would effectively allow a car to traverse a landscape, including moving obstacles and other barriers to movement.
In July 2018, Apple proposed the self-driving system could modify its behavior depending on the stress level of the car's occupants, using internal sensors to measure a variety of data points. If stress is detected, the system could switch to a slower speed, or could take corners at a slower rate.
A "confidence" system could help reduce the required resources to process the mountain of data from onboard sensors, cutting down what needs to be processed if it believes there isn't need to do so beyond a minimum level. Aside from saving resources, this may help speed up decision-making processes.
The use of VR and AR has also been an important element, including using a projection system on the windscreen to show an AR view of the road, including elements out of the user's vision, such as the intended path the self-driving system wants to take.
The use of headsets for AR or VR hasn't been discounted, with Apple even suggesting how to minimize car sickness while using the devices.
Self-driving vehicles need to tell other road users what their intentions are, something that Apple believes could be enhanced. A sign on the back or sides of a vehicle could explicitly tell other road users what the "Apple Car's" next move will be.
This could also take the form of a light strip on the perimeter of the vehicle, which could potentially function as a large brake light or indicators.
Inter-car communications could provide enhanced situational awareness, such as by one self-driving car system alerting others to their position. Skid recovery systems may help keep the car under control in hazardous conditions.
While the self-driving system would be intended to take the car owner from place to place, Apple may already have plans to use it for taxi systems. It has envisioned the possibility of summoning a self-driving hire car via an iPhone, which could also provide access to the vehicle and facilitate payment.
Apple devices could play another key role in autonomous car features by displaying alerts to those within the vehicle. If the "Apple Car" is self-driving, then passengers may not be fully aware of the environment outside the vehicle. Alerts to pay attention if anything unusual is sensed outside the vehicle could mitigate some disasters.
The sensor system may have more than just uses for driving, as Apple suggests it could be used to take pictures of points of interest. This could range from scenery on a route to the scene of a car accident, facilitating easier reporting to insurers.
Due to the system's construction, there is the potential of allowing other drivers to take control of a car via the self-driving mechanism. One proposal has a remote operator, such as a driver trained for emergency transit situations, guiding a self-driving vehicle to a hospital.
Apple has also looked into how to hide the plethora of sensors within the bodywork.
A patent for a specialized airbag system was filed, and would protect passengers who may be facing each other in a self driving vehicle.
The use of LiDAR and other sensors will be used for more informed decision making. Increasing the number of data points will increase the accuracy of a decision.
"Apple Car" Design
Apple's patent applications also cover the design of elements of vehicles. While this can include more pedestrian areas, such as power train systems, this also steps into redesigning essential concepts in vehicular design, rethinking basic elements in unusual ways.
The sunroof of an "Apple Car" could be set to slide a large glass panel, but in such a way that it remains central despite the car framework and tracks diverting away in non-parallel lines. A multi-segmented sunroof with independent sliding and lifting sections has also been proposed.
A headlight system could highlight road hazards for drivers, such as by using an "illuminated indicator" shone next to an obstacle, or specifically illuminating sections of the road.
An anti-glare system for the windscreen could protect drivers from bright lights by dimming or blocking out parts of the glass, while leaving the rest transparent.
Continuing the theme of lights, Apple has suggested alternative ways to illuminate the inside of a car. These have ranged from fiber optic systems to an interior lighting system using band pass filters to offer privacy, by making it hard for onlookers to see into a vehicle.
TrueTone technology borrowed from other Apple hardware could also be employed to ensure there is an even internal lighting inside of the car.
The seats and seatbelts have received particular attention by Apple, such as the use of a smart seatbelt that could control CarPlay devices. Illuminated seats could inform users of how to adjust them for comfort or simply to buckle up.
Retractable bumpers could help keep the vehicle pristine for longer, by using inflatable sections to cushion the blow from impacts.
On the more pedestrian side, a patent application from 2018 showed Apple was keen on designing a "converter infrastructure" for using high-voltage sources for lower-voltage systems. A battery floor has also been designed.
The use of electricity can allow for unusual use cases, such as a peloton of cars that could share power between each other.
Shell Company "SixtyEight" and Other Facilities
Apple is believed to be working on the secret automotive project at a facility known as "SG5" in Sunnyvale, Calif., under the cover of a shell company named "SixtyEight Research."
According to reports as of October 2016, Apple seems to be scaling back on the project to focus on self-driving technology – specifically giving it the opportunity to either partner with an existing automaker or return to developing the "Apple Car" later on.
Sources exclusively told AppleInsider in 2015 work was underway at a site located off of Apple's Cupertino campus, just minutes from 1 Infinite Loop. An investigation confirmed that Apple did indeed have a large presence at the location, and numerous automotive-related renovations, including an "auto work area" and a "repair garage" that was constructed at the premises. At least one neighbor complained about motor noises late at night.
The facility may have also been the site of more construction work, following one report from May 2019 claiming Apple was building "very large drive rooms." Financial analyst Craig Irwin of Roth Capital Partners declared this as evidence Project Titan is "absolutely not dead," with it being part of a substantial effort to create batteries and drive systems for a potential "Apple Car."
Though the concept of a "drive room" was not explained, it is likely the rooms could be used for the development of drive systems for vehicles, and for battery system innovations.
In July 2014, the city of Sunnyvale approved Apple plans to establish an "auto testing center" separate from the SG5 facility, intended for testing "new electronic technologies that are integrated into high-end cars."
SixtyEight Research has a limited online presence and renovated its facilities to add a "repair garage." This, accompanied by sources who say it's located in the office complex is where Apple is working on its secret electric car project, led to speculation that Apple is using SixtyEight as a cover.
Further adding intrigue to the mystery, "SixtyEight LLC" was registered as a company in California, and imported a 1957 Fiat Multipla 600 from the U.K. into the U.S. Apple's former chief designer Jony Ive is known for having an affinity for Fiat's designs, and he and co-designer Marc Newson auctioned off a Product(RED) Fiat 600 back in 2013.
It is also believed that Apple is doing some work on the project in a research facility in Switzerland. A report in March 2017 claimed at least 10 doctoral and postdoctoral students from ETH Zurich left the university for the lab, with a number of the recruits specializing in computer vision, robotics, and visual navigation; all things needed for an "Apple Car."
In March 2017, a report claimed the Chinese ride-hailing service Didi has set up its own self-driving car lab in California, considered a major expansion for Didi's physical operations, which were kept mostly within China. Thought to work on intelligent driving systems and AI-based transportation security, the lab was apparently staffed by a number of major figures in the robotics, AI, and engineering fields.
It is noted that the new facility is located in Mountain View, extremely close to Apple's Cupertino headquarters. While Apple did make an investment of $1 billion into Didi, there has yet to be any direct connection found between the new research center and Apple's own car-related projects.
In November 2017, Apple was thought to have leased the former Fiat Chrysler "proving grounds" in Surprise, Arizona for self-driving platform testing. The facility allowed for driving at a variety of speeds, including simulated wet roads, crosswalks, and intersections.
Apple reportedly picked up a 10-year lease for a Milpitas warehouse in October 2018. The facility, an "industrial manufacturing space" located at McCarthy Creekside, measures almost 314,000 square feet, and is a single-story building.
It is unlikely the building will be used for manufacturing, with R&D and storage more likely uses, though the size does lend itself to the development of vehicles.
Hires, Losses, and Layoffs
Initial reports said Apple would have an internal target ship date of 2021 for an electric car, but some rumors claim the first-generation model won't be a self driving vehicle. The project was said to have over 1,000 people working on it, but has faced multiple cuts. One of the project's original leads, Steve Zadesky, has allegedly left the company, possibly replaced by Tesla's VP of Vehicle Engineering Chris Porritt. In July 2016, long-time Apple executive Bob Mansfield was rumored to be in charge on a part-time basis after senior VP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio was given control of the project.
In general, hundreds of people on the “Project Titan” (see below for more information about the project itself) team have either left on their own, or been reassigned or cut following a crisis of confidence about the project's direction in 2016. At the time, the remaining staff were allegedly given a late 2017 deadline to prove the practicality of the self-driving technology.
The first round of layoffs is said to have hit in August 2016, followed by another in September. Over 120 software engineers working on a car OS and testing procedures were tossed, and several hundred hardware engineers working on things like a chassis, suspension, and an undercarriage vanished. The remaining employees were said to be crafting not just self-driving code, but sensors and simulators for real-world testing.
John Wright —an experienced Apple manager who led software efforts —departed, while Dan Dodge, the creator of BlackBerry's QNX car platform, assumed a bigger role in developing Apple's platform architecture.
However, one big hire that came in 2016 was Porsche's race program lead, Alexander Hitzinger, was allegedly brought on to Apple's "Apple Car" program. Initial reports say that he was brought on to do something "which has a significant and direct impact on society." While at Porsche, Hitzinger returned the company to endurance racing, and assisted in the development of the 919 hybrid sports car. Hitzinger's command led the company to Le Mans and endurance racing world championships in 2015 and 2016.
Hitzinger lasted at Apple until January 2019, when he was poached by Volkswagen for its commercial vehicles division.
March 2017, Apple appeared to be ramping up its efforts by setting up a research lab in Switzerland, staffed by recruits from ETH Zurich who specialize in computer vision, robotics, and visual navigation. A local report claimed the university's Professor of Autonomous Systems Roland Siegwart said five of his specialists had left for multinational organizations, but couldn't confirm the existence of Apple's R&D facility.
A group of four formerly employed by NASA are reportedly working on Apple's automotive efforts, specifically its autonomous driving software. According to a Wall Street Journal report in April, three engineers testing Apple's project previously worked at NASA's famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory, including work on 3D object detection and motion planning algorithms.
Another test operator is said to have worked on earlier efforts by automotive supplier Bosch to create a self-driving car, and also has experience making autonomous wheelchairs drive more smoothly.
In August 2017, Apple was reported to be hiring more staff for its self-driving project. The report from Business Insider cited a source familiar with Apple's technology and that of other similar self-driving platforms, with the new hires said to be focused on people who have experience in producing autonomous car software.
A report at the end of the same month claimed Apple had lost 17 engineers from its automotive projects to the self-driving startup Zoox. The engineers were previously picked up by Apple from traditional car makers, and include employees specializing in braking, suspension, and other mechanical automotive systems.
Report sources claimed the engineers departed after finding themselves less engaged with the projects than they had previously. This may have been linked to Apple's dialing back of its car plans in favor of concentrating on self-driving systems.
Apple hired John Giannandrea away from Google in April 2018 to head up its machine learning and AI strategy work. Part of this is presumed to involve self-driving car systems that rely on the technologies.
In June 2018, Apple added Jamie Waydo to the team, a former Waymo senior engineer and member of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That same month, reports surfaced claiming YouTube personality and former NASA engineer Mark Rober assisted Apple with developing VR systems for the vehicles.
Doug Field, formerly the vice president of Mac hardware engineering at Apple, was hired back to the company in August 2018, following a five-year stint at Tesla.
One August report claimed Apple had hired at least 46 people from Tesla in 2018, with some poached along with people who were laid off by the electric car manufacturer. However, despite the influx of automotive-inclined employees, apparently not all were tasked to "Titan."
By December that year, Tesla Senior Designer Andrew Kim had started work for Apple. Kim had worked on interior design for vehicles while at Tesla, including a focus on the dashboard layout.
At the start of 2019, reports claimed Apple let go of more than 200 workers in the "Titan" team, in what was billed internally as a "restructuring effort." Apple later confirmed plans to lay off 190 people from the project.
March 2019 saw the hiring of Michael Schwekutsch at Apple. Previously an engineering VP at Tesla, Schwekutsch has an extensive history in powertrain development, which strongly suggests car designs are still a focus of the project.
In June 2019, Apple boosted its self-driving efforts by acquiring Drive.ai, a start-up in the field. Confirmed by Apple, the purchase bought Apple dozens of employees from the company, along with the startup's cars and other unspecified assets.
While terms of the deal were not revealed, Drive.ai was valued at approximately $200 million in 2017, with the purchase price possibly within that ballpark.
For July 2019, Apple hired former Tesla engineering VP Steve MacManus, a long-time auto industry veteran. MacManus joined with the vague title of "senior director," but it is probable he is on the "Titan" team.
In July 2018, former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang pleaded not guilty to accusations of trade theft. Specifically, the theft of a 25-page schematic of a circuit board designed for use in autonomous vehicles.
Zhang was a member of the "Project Titan" Compute Team. Apple's security team discovered unusual download activity involving confidential files when Zhang handed in company-issued tools as he was leaving, with the intention of moving to Guangzhou and a position at Chinese electric car startup XMotors.
Under questioning, Zhang initially denied the allegations, but later admitted to taking two circuit boards and a Linux server, as well as AirDropping files from company computers to his wife's notebook.
A second employee was arrested in January 2019, with Jizhong Chen found to have taken photographs of a secret work area and hoarding manuals, diagrams, and schematics on the project. Chen had applied for a job at a Chinese self-driving technology company, in what appeared to be another case of trade theft.
In December 2019, Apple representatives appeared in federal court to ensure the two employees were closely monitored, with the argument they both posed flight risks.
"Apple Car" may be Apple's biggest undertaking yet, and its worst kept secret. Announcements surrounding the project should occur sometime in the next few years.
Common Apple Car Questions
Is Apple working on a car?
"Project Titan" refers to an internal project at Apple that deals with car manufacturing, design, and self driving services. It is not yet clear if Apple is designing an entire vehicle like "Apple Car," or just systems for a car.
How long has Apple been working on a car?
"Project Titan" started around September 2014, when Apple CEO Tim Cook gave the order to start on an "Apple Car." The first concrete evidence of such a project was discovered by AppleInsider at a location codenamed "SG5" in March 2015.
How much will Apple’s car cost?
The "Apple Car" rumors point to sophisticated technologies and self-driving concepts—none of which are cheap. While no concrete rumor of pricing has leaked, expect it be priced in the same range that Tesla or other luxury vehicles occupy.
When will Apple’s car be ready?
According to respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the "Apple Car" should be ready between 2023 and 2025. No other evidence has corroborated this report, however there are continuing signs that the project is still under development in some form.