Codenamed Project Titan, Apple’s highly secretive foray into building its own car is in a major tailspin. According to Automotive News, Apple has abandoned the project in favor of developing a software-based autonomous drive system. Apple insiders note a cataclysmic failure of leadership at Project Titan, which has seen “hundreds” of team members quit, fired, or reassigned.
AN reports that Apple executives have introduced a deadline of late 2017 for Project Titan to demonstrate the capability of its autonomous drive system and settle on the division’s future. Although Apple is leaving open the possibility of making a self-driving car, all evidence points to it developing autonomous drive software that would be sold to automakers and other third parties.
Despite enormous investments, a hiring spree, and an ambitious target of early next decade, Project Titan hit numerous snags by the end of 2015 after kicking off just one year before. Whether its wary tech investors, executives and engineers jumping ship, or supplier issues, Apple’s self-driving car project has been on the rocks more than it’s been on the straight and narrow.
Investors are reportedly wary of the auto industry’s slimmer profit margins of “well below 10 percent,” compared to much more abundant return in the tech world. Debates over strategy among management didn’t help either, nor did the exit of project head Steve Zadesky (formerly of Ford) in early 2016. By May, new project chief Bob Mansfield, a “highly regarded manager” responsible for the original iPad, put the kibosh on the Apple Car. That move unsurprisingly did not inspire confidence, resulting in the exodus of engineers in the following months. Two sets of layoffs, in August and September, followed soon after.
AN reports that in addition to regulatory experts helping navigate the complicated red tape of the auto industry, the remaining software engineers are “working on autonomous programs, vision sensors, and simulators for testing the platform in real-world environments.”
It’s unclear when we’ll know more, given the heavy veil of secrecy surrounding Project Titan up to this point. If anything has become clear, however, it’s that developing an autonomous car is proving a whole lot more complicated than the tech industry thought.