Apple Inc. is pushing to accelerate development of its electric car and refocusing the project around full self-driving capabilities, according to people familiar with the matter, which aims to solve a technological challenge Which has ruined the auto industry.
For the past several years, Apple’s car team has explored two paths at once: creating a model with limited self-driving capabilities focused on steering and acceleration – similar to many existing cars – or a version with full self-driving capability. Human intervention is not required.
Under the effort’s new leader — Apple Watch software executive Kevin Lynch — engineers are now focusing on the second option. Lynch is pushing for a car with a full self-driving system in the first version, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
Apple shares rose 2.4% to $157.23 following the news from Bloomberg. It’s just the latest change to the car effort, known as the Special Projects Group or “Project Titan”, which has endured strategy changes and executive turnover since its 2014 debut.
In September, the former head of the team, Doug Field, left for a job at Ford Motor Company after three years in charge. In selecting Lynch as its replacement, Apple went with an interior executive who is not a car veteran.
In trying to master self-driving cars, Apple is chasing a holy grail within the industry. The tech and auto giants have spent years working on autonomous vehicles, but the capabilities remain elusive.
Tesla Inc., the market leader in electric vehicles, is still probably years away from offering fully autonomous cars. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo has faced a scourge of departure in its efforts to develop the technology. And Uber Technologies Inc. last year agreed to sell its autonomous-driving division.
Apple is targeting to launch its self-driving car internally in four years, faster than the five- to seven-year timeline that some engineers had planned earlier this year. But timing is fluid, and meeting the 2025 goal is dependent on the company’s ability to roll out self-driving systems — an ambitious task at the time.
If Apple is unable to reach its target, it may either delay the release or sell a low-tech car initially.
A spokesperson for Cupertino, California-based Apple declined to comment.
Apple’s ideal car would have no steering wheel and pedals, and its interior would be designed around hands-off driving. An option discussed inside the company has an interior similar to a lifestyle vehicle from Canoo Inc., an upstart in the EV industry. In that car, passengers sit on the sides of the vehicle and face each other as if they were in a limousine.
Apple has also explored designs where the car’s infotainment system – possibly a large iPad-like touch screen – would be in the middle of the vehicle, allowing users to interact with it throughout the ride.
The car will also be integrated with Apple’s existing services and devices. While the company is insisting on not having a standard steering wheel, Apple has discussed equipping the car with an emergency takeover mode.
Recently, the company reached an important milestone in developing the car’s built-in self-driving system, people familiar with the situation said. Apple believes it has completed much of the core work on the processor it intends to eventually ship in the first generation of the car.
The chip was designed by Apple’s Silicon Engineering Group — which designed processors for the iPhone, iPad and Mac — not within the Cars team. Work involves honing the built-in software that runs on a chip to power the self-driving capabilities.
Progress may soon make its way into road trials. Apple plans to introduce the use of the new processor design and updated self-driving sensors into retrofitted cars that it spent testing in California. According to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the company currently has a fleet of 69 Lexus SUVs experimenting with its technology.
The Apple Car chip is the most advanced component that Apple has developed internally and is mainly composed of neural processors that can handle the artificial intelligence required for autonomous driving. The chip’s capabilities mean it will run hot and likely require the development of a sophisticated cooling system.
Asha is to develop a vehicle that can relieve the fatigue of the customers when they are on long journeys. But building an actual car — for an auto industry outsider like Apple — would require partnerships. The company has discussed deals with several manufacturers and is considering possible manufacturing of the vehicle in the US.
Even with recent progress, building a fully self-driving car by 2025 is seen as too aggressive within Apple. Some people from Project Titan are skeptical about the timeline.
Security is a major piece of the puzzle. Engineers involved in the effort say it wants to build out more robust security measures than what’s available from Tesla and Waymo. This involves creating a lot of redundancy – the ability to kick in layers of backup systems to avoid safety and driving system failures.
Apple is actively looking to hire engineers to test and develop security functions. “The Special Projects Group is seeking a skilled mechanical engineer to lead the development of mechanical systems with safety critical functions,” a recent Apple job listing reads. “You’ll use your passion to help design security systems and figure things out to test those systems and lead countermeasures.”
As part of efforts to accelerate the project, Apple is hiring more self-driving and car hardware engineers. This includes hiring CJ Moore, Tesla’s former self-driving software director.
In recent weeks, Apple has called on companies such as a climate systems specialist at Volvo Car AB, a manager at Daimler Trucks, a battery systems engineer for Karma Automotive LLC and other carmakers, a sensor engineer at General Motors Co.’s Cruise LLC, automotive safety. Engineers have also been tapped. Joyson Safety Systems and several other Tesla engineers, according to information from LinkedIn and people with knowledge of the matter.
According to the Apple job listing, the company is also hiring software engineers to work on “the experience of human interaction with autonomous technology”, suggesting it delve deeper into the development of the car’s user interface. The listing means that the software being developed will be based on the same technology as the iPhone operating system.
A Tesla Inc. A Model 3 electric automobile charges at a Tesla Supercharger station in Brooklyn, Netherlands, in the evening.
To power the vehicle, Apple has discussed being compatible with a combined charging system, or CCS. This will let Apple tap into a wider global network of chargers. But the approach will be different from the more proprietary charging systems developed for the iPhone and Apple Watch.
Apple has debated several different business models for its car internally, including building a self-driving fleet that will support Uber, Lyft Inc. and will compete with the likes of Waymo. The company has discussed an exterior design similar to the Canoo if it wants to take the fleet approach. However, a more likely scenario, Apple is offering the cars for individual ownership.
Reaching that point will not be easy. Apple’s car project has faced development challenges, leadership struggles, layoffs and delays throughout its seven-year history. Field’s arrival from Tesla in 2018 fueled a surge of excitement that eventually faded. At least four top managers from the project, in addition to Fields himself, departed in 2021.
Some members of the group believe that Field was irritated about reporting to Artificial Intelligence chief John Giandria following the retirement of his previous boss, Bob Mansfield. Mansfield reported directly to Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook in a part-time job overseeing car work.
Lynch is now the fifth executive to take charge of the project in nearly seven years. That rate of turnover is rare at Apple. For example, its virtual and augmented reality team has a leader because the project started around the same time as the car.
Still, given Lynch’s ability to turn the Apple Watch into a core product, some engineers on the Cars team see his appointment as a sign of an acceleration. Lynch reported to Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams.
Lynch is a software manager without car hardware or autonomous experience, but former Tesla executives — including Michael Schweikutsch and Stuart Bowers — have key roles on the project. Apple also hired Ulrich Kranz earlier this year. He previously led Canu and helped oversee the development of BMW’s electric cars.
When Lynch was selected to handle the car project, he remained in charge of the Apple Watch operating system and some of the health software teams. He has been involved in high-level decision making, focusing most of his time on the car project.
Now the question is whether an executive who can turn one of Apple’s last big things — its smartwatch — into his next car.