Apple's vehicle project, focused on building an autonomous driving system.
At A Glance
- Hundreds of Apple employees were once rumored to be working on an electric car, but the project's focus has shifted to developing self-driving car software instead of an actual car.
What We Know
- Physical car project shelved for now
- Autonomous driving system in the works
- Deep integration with iOS expected
- 2017 deadline to "prove feasibility"
What We Know
Starting in 2014, Apple began working on "Project Titan," with upwards of 1,000 employees working on developing an electric vehicle at a secret location near its Cupertino headquarters. Internal strife, leadership issues, and other problems impacted the car project, leading Apple to shelve it for the foreseeable future.
Apple has laid off hundreds of employees who were working on the project, and under the leadership of Bob Mansfield, Apple has transitioned to building an autonomous driving system rather than a full car. By creating an autonomous driving system, Apple will be able to partner with existing car makers or return to its own car development project in the future, and it will be able to produce a product able to deeply integrate with iOS devices.
Apple has several teams working on different aspects of the software. In Canada, a team made up of two dozen former BlackBerry QNX customers are helping to develop the base operating system, while another team works on developing the software that will run on it, such as a heads-up display and self-driving capabilities.
A self-driving simulation group, which includes VR expert Doug Bowman, has created simulators that use virtual reality to test Apple's self-driving software.
Apple is continuing to hire new employees as it redirects its focus, and Apple executives have reportedly given the car team until 2017 to prove the feasibility of an autonomous driving system. It is not clear if and when Apple will return to developing a full-blown car, nor is it known when Apple might have its driving system ready to ship.
For that reason, the future of "Project Titan" is now in flux and its ultimate fate won't be known until next year at the earliest.
When "Project Titan" was first conceived, rumors suggested Apple was working on an electric vehicle, perhaps with autonomous driving capabilities. Development on the car went as far as Apple entering talks with several car manufacturers about a potential partnership, such as BMW, Daimler, and Magna Steyr, but nothing seems to have come out of those talks. Apple also sought locations for testing vehicle prototypes and talked with the DMV about vehicle regulations, but all of that work is how on hold.
Apple Car History
Apple's interest in a car dates back to before the original iPhone, and Apple executives discussed building a car before the device launched. Steve Jobs considered developing an Apple car, and even met with the manufacturer of the lightweight, inexpensive "V-Vehicle" in 2010, but is said to have ultimately decided not to work on a car in 2008, preferring instead to focus development on the iPhone.
With the iPhone now secure as Apple's most profitable device, Apple has turned to other avenues of research and development, once again exploring the possibility of an Apple Car. The first details on the Apple Car started leaking out at the beginning of 2015.
In February of 2015, a mysterious van leased to Apple was spotted driving around streets in Northern California. The van had a camera rig attached to it with multiple cameras, leading to speculation that Apple was using it to develop a product similar to Google Street View. More outlandish speculation ranged towards the possibility of a self-driving vehicle, but people who spotted the vans quickly determined the vans had drivers. Apple later came out and said the vans were related to a mapping project, but they were undoubtedly the catalyst that led to the discovery of Apple's secret on a car.
Just days after the vans were first spotted, an unidentified Apple employee emailed Business Insider, suggesting Apple was working on a project that would "give Tesla a run for its money." The source said that Tesla employees were "jumping ship" to work on a project at Apple that was "too exciting to pass up."
That tantalizing hint led several media sites to dig deep into Apple's plans, and in mid-February, Financial Times learned that Apple was recruiting automotive technology and vehicle design experts to work in a "top-secret research lab." That piece highlighted Apple's hiring of former Mercedes-Benz Research and Development exec Johann Jungwirth and pointed out Apple's efforts to research automotive products.
Financial Times and other media sources initially speculated Apple was perhaps developing an advanced software platform to build upon CarPlay because a full-on car project sounded unbelievable, but just hours later, The Wall Street Journal launched a figurative bomb. Apple is indeed working on creating an electric vehicle, said the site, a project that it started exploring in 2014.
According to The Wall Street Journal's sources, Apple has hundreds of employees working on designing a minivan-like electric vehicle under the code name "Project Titan." Steve Zadesky, Apple VP of Product Design was leading the project under Dan Riccio, and was given the go ahead by Apple CEO Tim Cook to recruit upwards of 1,000 employees, many from within Apple, who are working on the project at a secret location near the company's Cupertino campus. Apple executives have met with contract manufacturers of high-end cars like Magna Steyr, who could potentially work with Apple on creating the car if Apple's project continues.
One rumor suggested Apple spoke to BMW about using BMW's electric i3 body as the base for the Apple Car, but those talks reportedly ended without a deal. The i3 is a small hatchback with a carbon fiber shell and could hint at the design direction Apple is aiming at for its car project.
Apple also was unable to establish a deal with Daimler, and its inability to ink deals with both Daimler and BMW was reportedly caused by questions over who would lead the company and which company would have ownership over data. Apple wants control over the car, including deep integration with iCloud, which has caused negotiation difficulties. Apple also entered into preliminary talks with McLaren, but the talks never progressed to a "definitive proposition."
Apple has sourced test facilities for the Apple Car project, suggesting prototype vehicles may already exist or will soon exist, and Apple has also met with DMV officials in California to discuss the current laws surrounding autonomous vehicles.
In September of 2015, reports suggested Apple was speeding up development on its car after upgrading the project with a "committed" label. Apple is planning to make additional hires in the coming months and years and is said to be targeting 2019 or 2020 as a completion date for the project.
In January of 2016, Steve Zadesky announced plans to leave Apple, leaving questions as to who would take over the car project following his departure. In July of 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported that Bob Mansfield has taken over the electric vehicle team.
Mansfield retired from Apple in 2012, but stayed on as an advisor. He has worked on Apple's "Special Projects" team and will now be leading Apple Car development. All senior managers working on the project now report to him instead of Dan Riccio, who Zadesky formerly reported to.
After Mansfield began heading up the project in the summer of 2016, Apple's car strategy shifted towards autonomous driving, and in August and September of 2016, Apple laid off dozens of employees who were working on the project following an internal "reboot."
Apple adjusted the project to focus more heavily on the "underlying technology" for autonomous vehicles rather than actually building an automobile, and while initial rumors suggested the company was still developing a car and was continuing to pursue partnerships, later information indicates work on an actual car has stopped for the time being.
Apple is now focusing its efforts entirely on building an autonomous driving system and hundreds of employees have left the company or have had their talents redirected in recent months as the car project has shifted. Apple is no longer creating a physical car at the moment, but rumors have suggested that could change in the future. With an autonomous driving system, Apple can partner with other companies in the future or go back to building its own car, leaving the door open for a return to the car project.
In November of 2016, Apple sent a letter to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, suggesting that new entrants to the auto industry should get the same rights as established companies.
The letter further highlights Apple's interest in machine learning and autonomous systems, with Apple even going as far as confirming its work in the two areas in a statement released to the press.
Apple has given the car team until 2017 to prove the feasibility of a self-driving car system.
Apple started with team of about 200 employees working on the Apple Car, but its goal is to have upwards of 1,000 employees on the project. Since early 2015, Apple has been recruiting employees from the automotive industry and other car-related fields, such as researchers with specialties in battery technology and autonomous systems.
Some employees on the team have previously worked for major companies like Tesla, Ford, and GM, while others have been recruited from smaller companies like A123 Systems, MIT Motorsports, Ogin, Autoliv, Concept Systems, and General Dynamics.
High-profile Apple hires from Tesla include former mechanical engineering manager David Nelson, former senior powertrain test engineer John Ireland, former Tesla head recruiter Lauren Ciminera, who may be working to recruit additional employees for the car project, and former Tesla vice president Chris Porritt, who may have joined Apple to play a key role in the development of the Apple Car. Porritt has decades of experience in the European automotive industry, having worked for companies like Land Rover and Aston Martin prior to joining Tesla.
Former Tesla senior CNC programmer David Masiukiewicz joined Apple in April 2016 to work in the Product Realization Lab, perhaps creating prototypes of parts designed for the Apple Car. Kevin Harvey, who previously worked in the CNC machine shop at Andretti Autosport, is also working in the lab.
Other notable hires include five employees from A123 Systems, a company that specializes in producing batteries for electric vehicles. Apple faced a lawsuit (now-settled) from A123 Systems over the poached employees, several of whom had expertise in lithium ion batteries designed for electric vehicles. The company's former CTO, Mujeeb Ijaz, is one of Apple's highest profile hires. Ijaz led a team responsible for research and development at A123 Systems, and prior to that, he worked at Ford as an electric and fuel cell vehicle engineering manager.
Apple has also recruited two former Ford engineers and an engineer that came from General Motors, and it has been poaching battery experts from Samsung. Other former Ford employees, with expertise in body work, include Todd Gray and Aindrea Campbell.
In mid-2015, Apple hired Doug Betts, who previously served as the Senior Vice President of the Chrysler Group, where he was the global head of operations leading product service and quality. Betts may be part of the operations team working on Apple's car project.
Apple hired several employees from electric motorcycle startup Mission Motors, reportedly leading to the company's shutdown. Apple recruited six engineers from the startup, whom are said to have electric drive expertise.
Apple has been hiring individuals with expertise in autonomous vehicles, such as Tesla Motors engineer Jamie Carlson, who worked on Tesla's autonomous vehicle firmware project, Paul Furgale, a researcher with specialization in autonomous vehicles, and Jonathan Cohen, NVIDIA's former director of deep learning who worked on deep learning for NVIDIA's Drive NX platform.
Apple has also hired Megan McClain, a former Volkswagen engineer, Vinay Palakkode, a graduate researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, Xianqiao Tong, who developed driver assistance systems for NVIDIA, Sanjai Massey, a Ford engineer who worked on connected and autonomous vehicles, Stefan Weber, a Bosch engineer who worked on driver assistance systems, and Lech Szumilas, a Delphi research scientist with former expertise in autonomous vehicles.
Rónán Ó Braonáin, who worked as Director of Engineering at Reviver, a company that creates digital license plates, was hired by Apple in August. It is not clear if digital license plate technology is something Apple is planning on for the Apple Car, but it's a possibility.
Apple has made multiple hires with expertise in charging technology, including Nan Liu, an engineer who worked on wireless charging for electric vehicles and Kurt Adelberger, an expert on charging that formerly worked for Google.
Other 2015 hires include Tesla Motors engineering manager Hal Ockerse, who worked on driver assistance system components; Subhagato Dutta, who worked on an automotive algorithm team at Texas Instruments; and Yakshu Madaan, who previously worked at Tata Motors, the largest Indian automotive manufacturer.
In the summer of 2016, Apple hired Dan Dodge, who formerly ran BlackBerry's automotive software division and developed QNX, the software platform found in a wide range of in-car infotainment systems. Dodge's automotive software expertise suggests he is working on the team developing Apple's autonomous car system.
Apple has at least two dozen former BlackBerry QNX employees working on developing an in-car software platform at a facility in Kanata, Canada.
Several rumors about the Apple Car have included details suggesting Apple employees are working on the project at a top secret location in the Bay Area. Rumors and speculation suggest Apple's car campus might be located in Sunnyvale, California, just minutes from the company's main 1 Infinite Loop Campus in Cupertino.
Apple officially leases several known buildings at the Sunnyvale location, but it is also said to be operating out of a shell company at the site, SixtyEight Research. SixtyEight Research claims to be a market research firm, but has received city permits for the construction of an "auto work area" and a "repair garage," and "motor" noises have been heard from the spot late at night. It is not known if the rumors of the car project being housed in Sunnyvale are accurate, but based on past information, development on the car is indeed taking place at a secret location outside of the company's main campus. Apple has been snapping up a lot of real estate in the Sunnyvale area, including an industrial building that was once a Pepsi bottling plant.
Several of the buildings potentially associated with Apple's car project have secret internal names referencing Greek mythological characters like Zeus, Rhea, and Athena, all of which are tangentially related to "titans" in Greek mythology, perhaps hinting that the buildings are related to "Project Titan."
Building plans Apple filed with city officials suggest the company's Sunnyvale facility, codenamed "Rhea," is being used for something car related, with references to automotive terms like "lube bay," "wheel balancer," "tire changer," and "wheel sensor.
Apple is also rumored to be operating a secret vehicle research and development lab in Berlin. The facility is said to employ between 15 and 20 men and women from the German automotive industry, all with backgrounds in engineering, software, hardware, and sales. The workers at the lab have all been described as "progressive thinkers" in their fields.
According to the CEO of a major Bay Area property company, Apple is looking for 800,000 square feet of real estate space near its Cupertino headquarters for autonomous car research and development facilities, in line with all of the real estate purchases Apple has made in recent months.
Didi Chuxing Investment
In May of 2016, Apple invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, which can be likened to Uber. Didi Chuxing dominates the ride-sharing industry in China with more than 80 percent market share. In July of 2016, Uber announced a merger between its operations in China and Didi Chuxing, further expanding Didi Chuxing's reach in the country and adding value to Apple's investment.
Didi Chuxing could potentially be useful to Apple's car project in the future, serving as a data source for self-driving vehicles. If Apple does develop an autonomous car system, deploying it to Didi Chuxing drivers would give the company a wealth of knowledge to improve its self-driving algorithms.
Apple's Auto-Related Domains
In December of 2015, Apple registered three auto-related top-level domain names, including apple.car, apple.cars, and apple.auto. While the three domains could potentially be related to CarPlay, it's also possible Apple has saved the domains to be used in the future with an electric car or an autonomous car system.
Currently, the domains are not being used by Apple and do not contain any information.
Apple Car rumors had suggested Apple was targeting a 2020 release date for the Apple Car, but now that Apple has ceased work on developing an actual car, the company's plans are in flux. Apple is now developing a self-driving car system, but there is no word on when it might debut. Apple executives have given the Project Titan team until 2017 to "prove the feasibility" of a self-driving car system.