Apple speeds up work on the car and aims for a fully autonomous vehicle | Technology news
Apple Inc. is working to accelerate development of its electric car and refocus the project on full autonomous driving capabilities, people familiar with the matter say, in an effort to solve a technical challenge that has plagued the auto industry.
Over the past few years, Apple’s automotive team had explored two simultaneous avenues: creating a model with limited autonomous driving capabilities focused on steering and acceleration – similar to most current cars from Tesla Inc. – or a version with full autonomous driving capability that does not require human intervention.
Under the new effort leader Kevin Lynch, director of Apple Watch software, engineers are now focusing on the second option. Lynch is pushing for a car with a fully autonomous driving system in the first version, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.
This is just the latest change for the automotive effort, known as the Special Projects Group or “Project Titan,” which has undergone strategy changes and executive rotation since its inception around 2014. In September, the Former team leader Doug Field left for a job at Ford Motor Co. after three years in charge. In choosing Lynch to replace it, Apple chose an internal executive who is not an automotive veteran.
By trying to get a handle on self-driving cars, Apple is pursuing a holy grail within the industry. The tech and auto giants have spent years on self-driving vehicles, but the capabilities have remained elusive.
Tesla, the market leader in electric vehicles, is probably still years away from offering fully autonomous cars. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo has suffered a wave of departures in its efforts to develop the technology. And Uber Technologies Inc. agreed to sell its autonomous driving division last year.
Apple is internally aiming for a self-driving car launch in four years, faster than the five- to seven-year timeline some engineers predicted earlier this year. But the timing is fluid, and meeting that 2025 target depends on the company’s ability to complete the autonomous driving system – an ambitious task in this timeline. If Apple is unable to meet its goal, it could either delay a release or initially sell a car with less technology.
An Apple spokesperson, based in Cupertino, Calif., Declined to comment.
Apple’s ideal car would have no steering wheel or pedals, and its interior would be designed around driving without intervention. One option discussed within the company includes an interior similar to the Lifestyle vehicle from Canoo Inc., a newcomer to the electric vehicle industry. In this car, passengers sit along the sides of the vehicle and face each other as they would in a limousine.
Apple also explored designs where the car’s infotainment system – likely a large iPad-like touchscreen – would be in the middle of the vehicle, allowing users to interact with it throughout a ride. The car is also said to be heavily integrated with Apple’s existing services and devices. Although the company is pushing for not having a standard steering wheel, Apple has considered equipping the car with an emergency take-over mode.
Recently, the company took a key step in the development of the car’s underlying autonomous driving system, people familiar with the situation said. Apple believes it has completed much of the basic work on the processor that it intends to eventually incorporate into the car’s first generation.
The chip was designed by Apple’s silicon engineering group – which designed the processors for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac – rather than the automotive team itself. The job has been to perfect the underlying software that runs on the chip to power autonomous driving capabilities.
Advances could soon make their way into road testing. Apple plans to start using the new processor design and updated autonomous driving sensors in the modernized cars it has spent years testing in California. The company currently has a fleet of 69 Lexus SUVs that are experimenting with its technology, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Apple’s automotive chip is the most advanced component Apple has developed in-house, and is primarily made up of neural processors capable of handling the artificial intelligence required for autonomous driving. The capabilities of the chip mean it will run hot and likely require the development of a sophisticated cooling system.
The hope is to develop a vehicle that can save customers from getting tired behind the wheel on long journeys. But building a real car – for an automotive outsider like Apple – will require partnerships. The company discussed deals with several manufacturers and considered building the vehicle in the United States.
Even with recent advancements, creating a fully autonomous car by 2025 is seen as very aggressive within Apple. Some people in Project Titan are skeptical about the timeline.
Safety is a major piece of the puzzle. Apple is looking to put in place stronger protections than those available from Tesla and Waymo, according to engineers involved in the effort. This includes the creation of numerous redundancies – the ability for the backup system layers to intervene to prevent failures of the safety and control system.
Apple is actively seeking to hire engineers to test and develop security features. “The Special Projects Group is looking for an accomplished Mechanical Engineer to lead the development of mechanical systems with safety critical functions,” read a recent job listing from Apple. “You will use your passion for understanding things to help design security systems and to lead the testing and countermeasures of those systems. “
As part of efforts to accelerate the project, Apple is recruiting more engineers in autonomous driving and car equipment. This includes the enlistment of CJ Moore, the former director of autonomous driving software at Tesla.
In recent weeks, Apple has also brought in a climate systems expert from Volvo Car AB, a manager from Daimler Trucks, battery systems engineers from Karma Automotive LLC and other automakers, a sensor engineer from Cruise LLC. of General Motors Co., automotive safety engineers. from companies like Joyson Safety Systems and several other Tesla engineers, according to information from LinkedIn and people familiar with the matter.
The company is also hiring software engineers to work on “human interaction experiences with autonomous technology,” according to a job listing from Apple, suggesting it is in the process of developing the car’s user interface. The list implies that the software under development will be based on technology similar to the iPhone operating system.
To power the vehicle, Apple has discussed being compatible with the Combined Charging System, or CCS. This would allow Apple to tap into a vast global network of chargers. But the approach would be different from the more proprietary charging systems it has developed for the iPhone and Apple Watch.
Apple has internally debated several different business models for its car, including creating an autonomous fleet that would compete with Uber, Lyft Inc., and Waymo. The company discussed an external design similar to the Canoo if it took the fleet approach. A more likely scenario, however, is that Apple offers the cars for individual ownership.
Getting to this point will not be easy. Apple’s car project has suffered from development issues, leadership struggles, layoffs, and delays in its seven-year existence. Tesla’s arrival of Field in 2018 sparked a wave of excitement that eventually fizzled out. At least four top managers of the project left in 2021, in addition to Field himself.
Some in the group believe Field was upset to report to AI chief John Giannandrea after his former boss, Bob Mansfield, retired. Mansfield had reported directly to CEO Tim Cook in a part-time job overseeing the work of the car.
Lynch is now the fifth executive to take on the project in about seven years. This turnover rate is rare at Apple. For example, its virtual and augmented reality team has had a leader since this project started around the same time as the car.
Still, given Lynch’s ability to help turn the Apple Watch into a commodity, some engineers on the automotive team see his appointment as a bullish sign. Lynch reports to Jeff Williams, COO of Apple.
Lynch is a software manager with no automotive hardware or standalone experience, but former Tesla executives on the project – including Michael Schwekutsch and Stuart Bowers – have key roles. Apple also hired Ulrich Kranz earlier this year. He previously ran Canoo and helped oversee the development of BMW’s electric cars.
When Lynch was chosen to take over the car project, he remained in charge of the Apple Watch operating system and some healthcare software teams. He remained involved in high level decision making while focusing much of his time on the automotive project.
The question now is whether an executive who has overseen one of Apple’s last great things – his smartwatch – can turn one car into his next.