Apple Project Titan: What’s the story so far?

By reviews / 11. August 2018

You’ve heard the rumours by now: Apple is trying to revolutionise the car, or at least that’s what all the leaks and rumours indicate.

Several reports from the past few years have claimed the company is not only poaching former Tesla employees and hiring automotive experts, but it is also secretly started up a research lab filled with hundreds of Apple employees who were originally working on an electric car, codenamed Titan, though that later evolved into Apple also tackling self-driving technology instead of an actual car.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Project Titan and is Apple making a car?

  • Project Titan is an effort to develop autonomous driving systems
  • It began as an electric car project
  • Apple is no longer developing a physical car

Apple began working on “Project Titan” sometime in 2014 and at one point had nearly 1,000 employees developing an electric vehicle at a secret lab near its Cupertino headquarters. The project has been cursed, if you will, with leadership drama and other problems, which led to Apple pausing it and laying off hundreds of employees. More recently, it recruited Bob Mansfield to lead the effort.

Mansfield transitioned Apple’s focus to making an autonomous driving system and has several teams working on different parts of the software. There’s a team in Canada developing the base operating system, for instance. Apple was also granted a permit in 2017 from the California DMV to test self-driving vehicles on public roads using several 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs leased from Hertz.

Apple has equipped several of the Lexus SUVs with a range of different sensors running its self-driving software. It’s also working on a self-driving shuttle service called designed to transport employees between Apple’s office in Silicon Valley.

In June 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed Apple is focusing on autonomous systems and suggested the work could be used for other applications beyond cars. “Autonomous systems can be used in a variety of ways – a vehicle is only one, but there are many different areas of it. And I don’t want to go any further with that,” he explained.

As of August 2017, Apple has continued to hire new employees, and Apple’s cars are still on the road.

Project Titan: What are the latest developments?

Here are some of the latest reports:

August 2018

  • Former Tesla lead engineer now works on Project Titan

June 2018

  • Apple hires Waymo engineer

May 2018

  • Apple has 62 self-driving vehicles in California
  • Apple expands self-driving car fleet

March 2018

  • Apple’s self-driving vehicles double in three months

January 2018

  • Apple ramps up self-driving efforts

November 2017

  • Apple possibly testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona
  • Apple says self-driving car software improves obstacle detection

August 2017

  • New Apple SUVs with LIDAR spotted
  • Apple developing self-driving shuttle service

July 2017

  • Apple reportedly working on electric vehicle batteries

June 2017

  • Apple working with Hertz on testing
  • Tim Cook says Apple is focused on autonomous driving systems

How did the ‘Apple Car’ rumour begin?

  • Apple was thought to be developing an electric car
  • Apple called the effort ‘Project Titan’
  • But the media dubbed this car ‘Apple Car’

Apple launched CarPlay in 2014, and in the beginning stages, it brought an iOS-style interface to in-car infotainment systems. It was meant to be built directly into many cars and expected to expand. Essentially, this little foray into the automative sector really got the rumour mill churning. Over the next year or two, many reports emerged about Apple developing its own car, referred to as “Apple Car”.

Here are a few examples, though keep in mind much of this focuses on Apple’s early electric car ambitions and not autonomous systems.

February 2015

An unnamed Apple employee told Business Insider that Apple was working on something that will “give Tesla a run for its money.” Apple and Tesla were also trying to recruit top-level employees from each other, according to Bloomberg Business, though, at the time, Tesla was winning the battle, by reportedly nabbing at least 150 former Apple employees. Musk was also publicly bragging about it.

The Financial Times added to the choir by reporting that a team of Apple employees were researching automotive products in a new research lab at a top-secret location near Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. The team was being led by experienced managers from Apple’s iPhone unit. The Wall Street Journal weighed in on all the speculation, specifically adding that Apple was making an electric vehicle codenamed Titan.

In another report from Reuters, it was revealed that electric-car battery maker A123 Systems was suing Apple for aggressively poaching its top engineers since June 2014. These engineers were apparently helping Apple build out a large-scale battery division. Manger Magazine even reported that Apple had met with BMW because it wanted to use the i3 vehicle as the basis of its own electric car.

Lastly, a mysterious van with an apparatus on its roof appeared in Concord, California. CBS affiliate KPIX 5 said Apple was leasing the car. San Francisco-based blog Claycord promptly published photos of a similar self-driving Dodge Caravan it spotted the previous year (see video).

November 2015

Tony Fadell, who is known as the “father of the iPod”, appeared on Bloomberg TV to discuss his time at Apple. During the interview, he revealed that he spoke with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2008 about how Apple could approach a car project.

But Apple didn’t have enough resources for such a project then. Fadell explained: “We had a couple walks, and this was in 2008, about if we were to build a car, what would we build? […] We would be looking at what would a dashboard be, what would seat be, how would you fuel it or power it, but at the end it was always like ‘We are so busy, we are so constraint’. You know. It would be great to do it, but we can’t.”

July 2015

Apple recruited automotive technology and vehicle design experts – including vehicle dynamics engineers – to work at its new “top-secret research lab”, according to The Financial Times. Then, The Wall Street Journal claimed Apple hired Doug Betts, who once served as the senior vice president of the Chrysler Group, where he was the global head of operations leading product service and quality.

Additionally, Apple had hired former Tesla vice president of vehicle engineering Chris Porritt, who used to be Aston Martin’s chief engineer. Apple hired also Paul Furgale, the deputy director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s Autonomous Systems Lab. Apple was seeking even more experts with robotics and machine experience, too, with Furgale supposedly recruiting both students and researchers.

August 2015

Apple was looking for locations to test a self-driving car, according to The Guardian, which said it learned this information through a public records act request. In one of the emails obtained through the request, an Apple engineer asked GoMentum, a 5,000-acre former naval base, for “an understanding of timing and availability for the space.” Apple also asked for a layout/photos of the grounds.

September 2015

According to The Guardian, Apple had a meeting with California autonomous driving officials in August 2015. This was thought to have followed an enquiry into acquiring a disused military base with lots of roads for autonomous car testing. Apple also hired an engineering program manager – something that usually happens at the company when a project is ready to leave the lab.

Apple reportedly spent more than a year investigating whether an Apple Car project was even feasible. The company must’ve thought it was worth exploring some more, because, according to The Wall Street Journal, project leaders tripled the so-called Apple Car team to 600-plus people. Apple was thought to be ramping up efforts to build an electric car and even set a target ship date for 2019.

October 2015

Electric motorcycle startup Mission Motors ceased operations, and it blamed Apple for grabbing up its key talent, according to Reuters. Apple poached six engineers from the San Francisco-based startup but never attempted to acquire Mission Motors outright. The engineers reportedly specialised in electric drive systems and battery algorithms for charging and cooling.

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