Past Attempts At Building An Apple Car
Apple had an open project to build their car since early 2014.
However, the car-making business isn’t easy, and according to Bloomberg Apple scaled back their ambitions to take on Detroit.
Dubbed Project Titan, Apple worked to streamline the process to create their physical car. This ambitious project looked to cover an array of hardware, software, and other technologies to help Apple enter the auto industry and take on the power players like Tesla and Google.
The History Of Project Titan
Since February 2015, there have been various reports that Apple is working on a technologically advanced car.
This car is said to give Tesla a “run for its money,” and based on their recent hiring trends, Apple is gearing up to produce hardware or software to get them into the car industry.
The iCar project codenamed ‘Titan,’ is being lead by hundreds of Apple employees.
Based on recent LinkedIn updates, we can see that over 50 engineers have left Tesla and moved to Apple. Most of these engineers specialize in mechanics, manufacturing, and robotics.
- 2010: The consideration of an Apple car started before the release of the iPhone. In fact, Steve Jobs met with the manufacturer of the “V-Vehicle”
- 2014: Apple launches Project Titan with the dream of taking on the auto industry. Apple aggressively hired engineers and other leadership to produce the Apple car by the early 2020’s.
- 2015: Project Titan was hit with several leadership issues where managers battled on the project’s direction and scope.
- Early 2016: With the departure of Steve Zadesky from Project Titan, the integrity of the entire project came into question, and senior leadership chose to re-evaluate the goals of the project.
Due to these complications, Apple pivoted the project from building an outright physical car to compete with Google and Tesla to focus on the development of a self-driving platform. One of the leading issues Apple has been working on is how their self-driving car technology will deal with traditional traffic equipment like traffic cones and other signals.
After a full phase of layoff, remaining engineers were working on autonomous programs, vision sensors, and simulators. This is a strong signal that Apple wants to focus on the technology behind the cars, instead of manufacturing the vehicle components themselves.
This pivot makes sense and plays to the strengths of Apple. Since Apple is knowns as a leader in product design and software engineering, it seems natural for Apple to carve itself a niche in the backend technologies that make autonomous cars run.
Where Apple currently dominates the mobile and computing markets is in technology and infrastructure and that technology can be applied to V2V communication. With the rise of automakers entering the electric and autonomous car market, the auto industry is getting more crowded every day. The move away from the physical manufacturing of cars to the software/systems seems like it fits the brand of Apple much better overall.
Apple Still Interested In The Auto Industry
While it is true that Apple has hit several bumps on their journey toward the auto market, the company recently released a letter to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Among other points in the report, Apple dropped several hints on their intentions moving forward.
The letter indicates that Apple may be interested in entering the car market shortly. The majority of the letter suggests that the government assist automakers in ensuring the adoption of specific policies for the advancement of autonomous technology.
Precise details of Apple’s plans were not revealed in the letter, but there were some interesting pieces the might hint at what Apple is moving towards. Apple’s Director of Product Integrity, Steve Kenner, the work Apple does in software and machine learning:
“Apple uses machine learning to make its products and services smarter, more intuitive, and more personal. The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.”
We already know that any policy shifts or new regulations could have a substantial impact on the future of autonomous cars. This is why Apple focused on the need to have the government reduce its impact on policies dealing with users’ privacy, cyber security, and physical safety.
Apple Focusing on Technology And Systems
Tesla is not the only company Apple is looking to for technology engineers. The Korea Times has also reported that Apple is attracting Samsung battery tech experts to the technology giant. These high profile batter experts show that Apple is gearing up to work on a battery powered project, perhaps an electric car.
This fact, along with Apple’s partnership with large lithium-ion batteries means that Apple has their eye on large applications that use battery power.
As first reported by MacRumours, Apple has been buying up a range of car-related domain names including Apple.Car, Apple.cars, and Apple.auto. While these purchases took place in December 2015, records show that they were not activated until 2016.
None of these domains are currently active, but it is interesting to think that Apple is either purchasing the domains for purposes to advance their business or as a defensive measure to protect their brand.
Apple already is a player in the software side of car technology with their CarPlay system. While a boosted version of their CarPlay software technology would not meet the expectation of Apple fans, this could be a springboard Apple uses to enter into the market.
If Apple chooses to pursue the path of software and other systems, then they will need to partner with an automaker in the industry.
They have already ended talks with BMW and Mercedes, but Ford has shown indirect interest in Apple’s entrance into the automobile industry. At CES 2016, Don Butler, Executive Director of Ford Connected Vehicles, said that he is excited to have Apple enter the automobile space.
While Mr. Butler also said he is excited to see Google, his interview showed personal enthusiasm for Apple and their achievements.
This partnership would help both Ford and Apple, since Ford has the manufacturing infrastructure already in place to create the real cars, and Apple is a proven leader in software development.
The Future Of The Apple Car Project
Unfortunately, the Apple Car that we all have imagined in our minds never had a chance in the real world. This is because people hyped up the possibilities of the Apple Car well beyond reasonable expectations.
We have seen that Tesla has burned through billions of dollars to create the manufacturing infrastructure necessary to create their critically acclaimed electric sedans.
Even as Tesla continues to invest in the Gigafactory to help build batteries for their electric cars, it would be an unwise business venture for Apple to enter the market as originally intended. The stiff competition and high price tag would mean their core business could be strained and lead to the decline of stock prices.
Apple has built a reputation on stylish design, products that are made with better-than-needed materials, and smart engineering.
Even if Apple chose to enter the gas-powered economy car market, the margins of those vehicles are thin so making the cars affordable enough to be competitive while also turning a profit would be a struggle- even for Apple.
Perhaps one day in the future Apple will begin producing advanced vehicles like Google, Ford, and Tesla.
However, based on current research and documents, it is a better chance that Apple is working to corner the software and system technology of the autonomous car market.