How Is Apple's Autonomous Vehicle Program Doing, You Ask?

how is apples autonomous vehicle program doing you ask

Back in 2015, it was rumored that Apple was sinking significant resources and manpower into an electric vehicle program that also incorporated autonomous driving. But updates on “Project Titan” have been infrequent. Apple takes pains to keep its self-driving program under wraps.

There are, however, ways to track its progress. Since Apple tests its vehicles in California, it must submit an annual report to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles outlining how many times human safety drivers retake control or interfere with the vehicle’s self-driving systems, as well as a tally of total miles driven.

Based on this metric alone, Waymo appears to be the industry leader, with “disengagements” occuring every 11,000 miles. General Motors’ Cruise came in second with roughly 5,200 miles between periods of human intervention. But what about Apple? Apparently, the firm is facing some rather strong headwinds. The company claims a human had to retake control every 1.1 miles.

Bloomberg, which first shared the DMV report, was careful to note that this single-metric overview only provides a glimpse into autonomous testing programs, and may not be representative of the overall situation. While absolutely true, one cannot ignore how wanting Apple’s progress appears to be.

Some of this could be attributed to safety concerns. None of the company’s self-driving vehicles registered within the state have ever been reported being involved in a serious accident. But they have been minor incidents attributed to other vehicles. We’re hunting for a silver lining here. No matter how you slice the situation, Apple is nowhere near where it hoped to be by 2019.

From Bloomberg:

In 2017, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told Bloomberg Television that the company’s work on autonomous systems is the “the mother of all AI projects” and said it’s probably one of the most difficult artificial intelligence efforts to work on. Last year, the company hired Doug Field, a former chief engineer for Tesla, to oversee its project alongside Bob Mansfield, who used to be senior vice president of hardware engineering.

In January, Apple scaled back Project Titan again, laying off some employees and assigning others to different artificial intelligence teams within the company. Over the course of the last six months, two employees on the team allegedly attempted to steal trade secrets for China-based self-driving car companies. According to related lawsuits, Apple has about 1,200 people working on the project.

There were also layoffs in 2016, following a period where the company convinced Mansfield to return and take over Project Titan and reboot the seemingly stalled program. The following year, it was discovered that Apple had moved away from attempting to build a complete vehicle, focusing instead on autonomous tech that could be adapted for use in other vehicles.

However, one the more interesting bits of news came in April of 2017, when the company issued a letter to the California Department of Motor Vehicles asking it to reevaluate its reporting requirements. It claimed that disengagements should only be reported when a driver has to take over to avoid an accident or keep the car from breaking the law. The reason for this is that not all miles are comparable. Some tests periods specifically deal with short trips requiring frequent stops.

Last months’ layoffs are believed to have affected around 200 employees, though the company’s efforts were said to be on the upswing. Its self-driving fleet, which started 2018 with around 30 cars, is now believed to number closer to 70. Apple has clearly not given up on Titan. Still, with the company apparently so far behind the rest of the pack, one wonders how long this might remain the case.

[Image: Image Stocker/Shutterstock]

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2 of 14 comments
  • Mark Morrison Mark Morrison on Feb 14, 2019

    You’re holding it wrong

  • PandaBear PandaBear on Feb 15, 2019

    I remember it. Back then everyone was talking about it and the stock price went to almost 130, because they hired 400 people to work on a complete car. It is just a pump and dump operation by some investors (Carl Ichan I think), a few months after that the stock price dropped back to 100 and then Carl Ichan said he unloaded AAPL, after failing to force the company to distribute the cash / iphone profit back to share holders. The original concern was Waymo dominating AI / self driving, and force Apple out of the eco system. So they want to have enough patents that they can trade with others / make truce. Now that everyone is doing self driving and no one will be a monopoly, there is no point in doing it anymore. So yup, move some guys to other teams and layoff those who can't. Those guys can find jobs in other self driving companies, don't worry.

  • MaintenanceCosts There's no mystery anymore about how the Japanese took over the prestige spot in the US mass market (especially on the west coast) when you realize that this thing was up against the likes of the Fairmont, Citation, and Volaré. A massacre.
  • MaintenanceCosts Chevy used to sell almost this exact color on the Sonic, Bolt, and Camaro, as "Shock." And I have a story about that.I bought my Bolt in 2019. Unsurprisingly the best deal came from the highest-volume Bolt dealer in my very EV-friendly area. They had huge inventory; I bought right when Chevy started offering major incentives, and the car had been priced too high to sell well until that point.Half the inventory had a nice mix of trims and colors, and I was able to find the exact dark-gray-on-white Premier I wanted. But the real mystery was the other half of the inventory. It was something like 40 cars, all Shock on black, split between LT and Premier. You could get an additional $2000 or so off the already low selling price if you bought one of them. (Neither my wife nor I thought the deal worth it.) The cars were real and in the flesh; a couple were out front, but behind the showroom, there was an entire row of them.When I took delivery, I asked the salesman how on earth they had ended up with so many. He told me in a low voice that a previous sales manager had screwed up order forms for a huge batch of cars that were supposed to be white, and that no one noticed until a couple transporters loaded with chartreuse Bolts actually showed up at the dealer. Long story short, there was no way to change the order. They eventually sold all the cars and you still see them more often than you'd expect in the area.
  • EAM3 Learned to drive in my parents' 1981 Maxima. Lovely car that seemed to do everything right. I can still hear the "Please turn off the lights" voice in my head since everyone wanted a demo of the newfangled talking car. A friend of the family had a manual transmission one and that thing was fun!
  • FreedMike That wagon is yummy.
  • Syke Thanks, somehow I missed that.