It has been over two years since we heard anything about Apple’s decade-long ‘Titan Project’ to launch its own fully autonomous electric car that wouldn’t even feature a steering wheel anymore. But that won’t happen, insiders told the Bloomberg news agency, as the new shift is to a somewhat ‘common’ EV with the driver still in control, and that will not be earlier than 2028.
What Apple had in mind was so-called SAE Level 4 or even Level 5, the highest level at which a vehicle can operate without a driver in a controlled environment (like Waymo’s robotaxis) or even unrestricted at any time. But experts agree that will not happen soon, as it is too complicated. According to Bloomberg, Apple is now downgrading its ambitions to a ‘normal’ EV with Level 2+.
Quite common today
Level 2 systems are already quite common today. The driver can release control but still has to monitor the car while it executes the driving. He or she is supposed to take control almost instantly if the situation demands it. According to Bloomberg sources, Apple hopes to release an upgraded system supporting Level 4 autonomy somewhat later.
Even Tesla’s Autopilot is a Level 2 system today, evolving to Level 3 with Full Self-Driving (FSD). Due to technically sophisticated sensory armor, Level 3 cars can make informed decisions, such as overtaking themselves.
Mercedes-Benz Level 3
German carmaker Mercedes-Benz was the first to get official approval for SAE Level 3 autonomous driving in the US. But only on highways up to 40 mph (60 km/h). It allows drivers to take their eyes and minds off the traffic and focus on secondary activities, such as communicating with colleagues via the In-Car Office, surfing the internet, or relaxing while watching a film.
These infotainment applications are automatically unblocked while the car takes control of the driving. You can’t sleep, though, as the vehicle will make an emergency stop if the driver doesn’t respond within ten seconds as the car asks to take the wheel.
Hefty board meetings
Apple has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars yearly on the Titan project. Under pressure from the Board, the new strategy was adopted after a series of ‘hefty’ meetings with project leader Kevin Lynch and Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook.
Although the team worked for years on power trains, interior and exterior design, and its own software environment, it never came to a prototype. That was one of the reasons why Doug Field left in 2021, as he didn’t believe top management would ever approve the release.
Apple’s car plans have been ‘obscured by clouds’ since news broke in 2014 that the smartphone maker wanted to venture into developing an autonomous car, the so-called Titan Project. It looked like Apple abandoned the plan at one point to focus on software only, but in 2018, it hired back veteran Doug Field to become Vice-President of the ‘Special Projects Group’.
Doug Field was Apple’s VP for its Mac computers’ engineering when he left the company for Tesla, where he stayed for five years until 2018 as Senior Vice-President Engineering. Field took over the Titan Project and fired 190 team members to restructure it.
Testing autonomous cars
In 2017, authorization was given to test vehicles on the streets of California. Since then, Apple has been running a fleet of around fifty cars – mainly Lexus RX450h hybrid cars – for testing autonomous driving software. But when Doug Field took over the project, the engineers were allegedly reassigned to other projects.
In June 2019, Apple confirmed its purchase of the Californian start-up Drive.ai. Created in 2015 by Stanford University researchers, the start-up has developed artificial intelligence systems dedicated to automotive self-driving. This fueled the idea that Apple focused on the software instead of its own car.
Potential manufacturing partners
Now, Bloomberg sources say Apple has been meeting with potential manufacturing partners in Europe to discuss the new approach and actually build the car, but not before 2028.
Eventually, in 2021, there were rumors that Apple was talking with Hyundai/Kia about making an autonomous vehicle together for release in 2024. According to several media sources, Apple was close to finalizing a deal with South Korean carmaker Hyundai-Kia to build an Apple-branded autonomous vehicle in West Point, Georgia (US). But it turned out to be the such-and-such fata morgana.