Apple puts autonomous car project ambitions on ice

23 Aug 2017

Apple Park. Image: Uladzik Kryhin/Shutterstock

It seems like Apple’s autonomous car plans will remain as plans for the time being, as internal confusion sees project change gears.

Project Titan. This was the majestic moniker under which Apple employees had been discussing its automotive tech strategy since at least 2014, with the company working on building its own vehicle from scratch.

However, a new report from The New York Times paints a far more modest picture of Apple’s current automotive plans. Rather than creating an entirely Apple vehicle, Tim Cook and staff are now focusing on creating autonomous systems that can allow any vehicle to become self-driving.

Internal confusion at Apple

In the report, five members of Apple staff anonymously spoke about the missteps that, in their view, led the company to pare back its plans.

They discussed internal confusion in the company as to what the parameters of the hypothetical Apple car would be. The project was both “dogged by its size” and a victim of unrealistic deadlines and ever-changing priorities, from the staff’s point of view.

A real bone of contention was whether Apple would go for a semi-autonomous or fully autonomous vehicle, with the debate ongoing for quite some time. While these basics hadn’t been set in stone, a team had already begun working on CarOS, a possible operating system for the as-yet-unfinished vehicle.

After this period of conflict, Apple veteran Bob Mansfield was brought in to lead Titan, scrapping the autonomous car plans.

Say hello to PAIL

Apple will now test out its self-driving tech in the form of an autonomous shuttle scheme across its Silicon Valley campus, between Cupertino and Palo Alto. It will be known as the Palo Alto to Infinite Loop (PAIL), and will ferry staff between office buildings.

The Guardian noted that the project’s name reflects the overall delays with Titan, as Apple is in the process of moving its offices to a new campus, Apple Park.

Notably, Apple’s decision is very similar to the path taken by Alphabet subsidiary, Waymo, which has also made it clear that it is focused on creating self-driving technology as opposed to vehicles.

Apple Park. Image: Uladzik Kryhin/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects