Apple has cut at least 200 jobs at Project Titan, its autonomous vehicle project, sources told TheDetroitBureau.com, a report now confirmed by CNBC.
The operation has been underway in near secrecy for several years and had previously gone through several upheavals, according to sources, as the tech giant tried to figure out exactly what its long-term goals would be. While it appeared committed to the idea of developing self-driving vehicle technology, the big question was whether Apple should also build the cars that would use that technology and, if so, how they would be used.
“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple,” a company spokesperson told CNBC overnight. “As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple.”
(Waymo plans to outfit cars with its self-driving tech in MI plant. Click Here for the latest.)
The cutbacks apparently will not kill Project Titan off entirely, the spokesperson added, noting that, “We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever.”
The fact that Apple would even comment on the latest developments is significant. Project Titan was the subject of several years of rumors before CEO Tim Cook addressed it in any form, initially by teasing that self-driving cars would be “the mother of all AI projects,” in an interview with Bloomberg in June 2017.
By then, it was believed that Apple had assembled a massive team to develop not only self-driving software but a vehicle that would be able to use the technology. But there were subsequent indications Apple might eliminate vehicle production from its plans, much as rival Alphabet did when it spun the Waymo self-driving project off from Google several years ago.
Waymo late last year launched the world’s first self-driving vehicle ride-sharing service in Phoenix, a venture it plans to expand to other cities over the coming years. But Waymo CEO John Krafcik has decided to rely on vehicles provided by traditional automakers, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rover. In turn, it is modifying them itself using both software and hardware built in-house. Waymo is now planning to set up a plant in the Detroit region to handle those modifications.
(Waymo kicks off autonomous taxi and ride-sharing service. Click Here for the story.)
Exactly why Apple decided to shake up its own program is unclear, though CNBC reports it may have something to do with its hiring, last August, of Doug field, a former Tesla vice president of engineering. He has been overseeing Project Titan, working alongside Bob Mansfield. Mansfield is the engineer credited with a number of major developments at Apple, including the Apple Watch. He had been reassigned, several years ago, to work on special projects,
Whether Apple remains in the self-driving vehicle sector or not, there will be plenty of competition in that emerging arena. General Motors is planning to challenge the Waymo One service this coming year using technology developed by its Cruise Automation subsidiary.
Last October, Honda agreed to team up with GM in what will be a long-term, $2 billion investment that gives it a stake in Cruise. Japanese investment firm SoftBank has also invested in the GM subsidiary.
Ford, Volkswagen and other traditional automakers are planning to enter the field with not only self-driving vehicles but with subsidiary ride-sharing operations. And both Uber and Lyft are developing autonomous vehicles of their own.
(GM assigns Pres. Dan Ammann to run its Cruise Automation operations. Click Here for more.)