Apple accelerates work on electric car project targeting fully autonomous vehicles

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Posted by Mark Gürman | Bloomberg

Apple Inc. is pressing to accelerate the development of its electric car, and is refocusing the project around full self-driving capabilities, which, according to people familiar with the matter, aims to solve a technical problem that is plaguing the auto industry.

Over the past few years, Apple’s auto team has explored two avenues at once: creating a model with limited self-driving features focused on steering and acceleration—similar to many existing cars—or creating a model with fully self-driving capability. human intervention.

Under the new leader of the study – Apple Watch software manager Kevin Lynch – engineers are now focusing on the second option. The people, who did not want to be identified because the interviews were private, said that Lynch had pushed for a car with a fully automatic driving system in the first version.

Apple shares rose 2.4% to $157.23 after Bloomberg reported the news.

This is the latest shift in auto work, known as the Special Projects Group or “Project Titan”, which has undergone strategy changes and executive takeovers since it began in 2014. In September, Doug Field, former head of the team, took a job after three years at Ford Motor Co. In choosing Lynch instead, Apple went with an in-house executive who wasn’t an automaker.

Trying to master self-driving cars, Apple is pursuing a holy grail in the industry. Tech and auto giants have spent years building autonomous vehicles, but the capabilities have remained elusive.

Tesla Inc., the market leader in electric vehicles, is probably years away from offering fully autonomous cars. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo has experienced a series of divergences in its efforts to improve the technology. And Uber Technologies Inc. agreed to sell its autonomous driving division last year.

Apple is internally aiming to launch its self-driving car within four years, faster than the five- to seven-year timeline some engineers had planned earlier this year. But timing is volatile, and achieving this 2025 goal will depend on the company’s ability to complete its self-driving system – an ambitious task in this program. If Apple doesn’t meet its goal, it may delay launch or sell a car with less tech initially.

Apple, a spokesperson for California-based Cupertino, declined to comment.

Apple’s ideal car would not have a steering wheel and pedals, and its interior would be designed for hands-free driving. One of the options discussed in-house features an interior similar to the one in Lifestyle Vehicle from Canoo Inc., a startup in the EV industry. In this car, passengers sit on the sides of the vehicle and look at each other as if they were in a limo.

Apple has also explored designs where the car’s infotainment system (possibly a large iPad-like touchscreen) will be in the middle of the vehicle, allowing users to interact with it throughout the ride. The tool will also be heavily integrated with Apple’s existing services and devices. While the company is pushing not to have a standard steering wheel, Apple has discussed equipping the car with an emergency takeover mode.

People familiar with the situation said the company had recently reached a significant milestone in developing the car’s underlying self-driving system. Apple believes it has finally completed most of the basic work on the processor it plans to ship in the car’s first generation.

The chip was designed not within the auto team itself, but by Apple’s silicon engineering group, which designs the processors for the iPhone, iPad and Mac. The work involved the development of core software running on the chip to power self-driving capabilities.

The developments may soon enter road tests. Apple plans to begin using the new processor design and updated self-driving sensors in refurbished cars it has tested in California for years. According to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, the company currently has a fleet of 69 Lexus SUVs testing its technology.

The Apple car chip is the most advanced component Apple has developed internally and consists primarily of neural processors that can process the artificial intelligence needed for autonomous driving. The chip’s capabilities mean it will get hot and will likely require the development of an advanced cooling system.

The hope is to develop a tool that can relieve customers from driving fatigue on long journeys. But building a real car for someone outside the auto industry like Apple will require partnerships. The company has discussed deals with multiple manufacturers and potentially considered building the vehicle in the USA.

Despite recent progress, creating a fully self-driving car by 2025 is seen as too aggressive within Apple. Some people at Project Titan are skeptical about the timeline.

Security is an important piece of the puzzle. Engineers involved in this effort say Apple wants to create stronger security measures than what’s available at Tesla and Waymo. This includes creating plenty of redundancy – putting layers of redundancy into play to prevent safety and drive system failures.

Apple is actively looking to hire engineers to test and improve its security functions. “The Special Projects Group is seeking a successful mechanical engineer to lead the development of mechanical systems with safety-critical functions,” says a recent Apple job listing. “You’ll use your passion for solving things to help design security systems and lead the testing and countermeasures of those systems.”

As part of efforts to accelerate the project, Apple is hiring more self-driving and vehicle hardware engineers. This includes including CJ Moore, Tesla’s former director of self-driving software.

In the past few weeks, Apple has announced that a climate system specialist from Volvo Car AB, a manager from Daimler Trucks, battery systems engineers from Karma Automotive LLC and other automakers, a sensor engineer from Cruise LLC of General Motors Co., automotive safety He also talked to his engineers. According to LinkedIn and people with knowledge of the matter, from companies like Joyson Safety Systems and many other engineers from Tesla.

According to an Apple job listing, the company is also recruiting software engineers to work on “human interaction experiences with autonomous technology,” indicating profound progress in the development of the car’s user interface. The listing implies that the software under development will be based on technology similar to the iPhone operating system.

To get the car running, Apple has discussed being compatible with the combined charging system, or CCS. This allows Apple to tap into an extensive global charger network. However, the approach will be different from the more specialized charging systems it has developed for the iPhone and Apple Watch.

Apple, Uber, Lyft Inc. and has discussed many different business models for his car internally, including creating a self-driving fleet that can compete with companies like Waymo. The company has discussed an exterior design similar to the Canoo if it takes the fleet approach. However, a more likely scenario is for Apple to offer the cars for individual ownership.

Getting to that point will not be easy. Apple’s automobile project has suffered from development challenges, leadership struggles, layoffs and delays throughout its seven-year history. Field’s arrival from Tesla in 2018 finally brought a gushing surge of excitement. At least four senior executives left the project in 2021, in addition to Field himself.

Some members of the group believe Field was uncomfortable reporting to AI chief John Giannandrea after his previous boss, Bob Mansfield, retired. Mansfield had reported directly to Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook at a part-time job overseeing the auto business.

Lynch became the fifth manager to take charge of the project in nearly seven years. This turnover rate is rare at Apple. For example, the virtual and augmented reality team has had a lead since this project started at the same time as the car.