For months, Apple has remained quiet about its plans to develop autonomous technology for cars. It broke its silence in January 2019 to announce a round of over 200 layoffs, but the company stresses autonomy will play a significant role in moving society forward in the coming years, and it’s not throwing in the towel completely.
Anonymous Apple employees with inside knowledge of Project Titan, the name of Apple’s self-driving car research initiative, revealed the layoffs to CNBC. The company later confirmed the report. The insiders suggested the layoffs are tied to Project Titan’s new leadership. Apple appointed Doug Field, Tesla’s former vice president of engineering, at the head of Project Titan in August 2018 and the executive is still making changes to his team.
“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. 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,” a spokesperson for the company told CNBC.
Some of the laid-off employees will leave Apple, while others will move to different departments within the company. The company hasn’t revealed whether it dismissed engineers, designers, or other positions. The layoffs don’t signal the end of the company’s research in the field of autonomous technology, though. The spokesperson added Apple sees a huge opportunity in autonomous systems, and it stresses that it has unique capabilities to contribute to the advancement of this technology. “This is the most ambitious machine learning project ever,” the spokesperson opined.
None of this sheds light on how, when, where, or why Apple will enter the automotive industry. In 2015, rampant rumors claimed the Cupertino, California-based tech giant wanted to build its own car from the ground up. The reports of a so-called Apple Car cooled in the wake of a 2016 round of layoffs followed by a credible report that outlined Apple’s plans to buy an existing automaker instead of starting from scratch. Many pointed to Tesla, then McLaren, but neither deal went through. The BMW i3-based Apple Car never happened, either. As of 2019, it sounds like Apple is more interested in developing the software and hardware needed to power an autonomous car than in competing against Ford and Dodge with a standalone vehicle.
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