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Apple Car project continues to veer, report claims

Whether Apple will actually unveil an electric, autonomous vehicle seems as unclear as ever following a new report that claims the initiative is still facing serious challenges.

Codenamed Project Titan, Apple has reportedly been working on building a car for years, though over that time the company has reportedly struggled with key personnel changes, uncertainty over its approach and ultimate goals, and issues with finding partners to help it move the project forward.

After speaking to insiders, The Information this week shared new details about Project Titan that may surprise some.

For example, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering and one of the most prominent figures at the tech giant after CEO Tim Cook, is reported to be “skeptical” about the company’s autonomous car initiative, although it should be noted that he’s not thought to be directly involved in the project.

The Information also describes how the software powering Apple’s test vehicles — modified Lexus SUVs — performs well when covering ground that’s already been mapped, but can struggle when driving in new areas. One troubling incident reportedly involved an Apple test car almost striking a jogger.

It happened earlier this year when the vehicle was traveling at around 15 mph. The jogger stepped into the street but Apple’s car continued to proceed, only “slightly” adjusting its path.

The human safety driver reportedly “slammed the brakes at the last moment,” bringing the vehicle to a stop “within a few feet of the pedestrian.” Without this human intervention, the car would have hit the jogger, Apple reportedly concluded after examining the data.

Such mishaps can be expected while testing new technology like this, and the safety driver did exactly the right thing to prevent a potentially tragic outcome. Nevertheless, Apple reportedly deemed the incident so serious that it temporarily grounded its test vehicles to find out what went wrong.

The report also revealed how the Project Titan team took a fleet of Apple test vehicles to Montana to film a slick promotional video featuring the cars against the state’s dramatic mountainous scenery in a bid to demonstrate to Cook that the initiative was proceeding well and that the vehicle could operate safely on roads that hadn’t been mapped. But back on the streets around Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters, the cars were reportedly “smacking into curbs and sometimes having trouble staying in their lanes while crossing intersections.” And then came the jogger incident.

The Information’s report offers more tidbits about Apple’s long-running attempts to build a self-driving car, though an increasing number of observers are wondering if the vehicle will ever see the light of day.

As usual, Apple has said next to nothing about its plans regarding an autonomous car, with most information about the project coming via leaks from insiders and those who have left the project.

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Trevor Mogg
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