Apple’s self-driving car: Project Titan is revving up

18 Aug 2015

Apple has set itself a goal of five years before delivering its first self-driving vehicle

New documents show that Apple’s Project Titan — the codename for its self-driving car — is further along than most people suspected. The tech giant is reportedly scouting for test locations, including a high-security US navy base.

According to The Guardian, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco is being turned into a high-security testing ground for the autonomous vehicle.

The move comes just as Tesla prepares to put its new Tesla Model X crossover vehicle on the road next month.

Apple’s self-driving car joins road race

While Google is powering ahead with its autonomous vehicle project, many new car models by traditional car manufacturers are being prepared with semi-autonomous features that give drivers the choice between driving and allowing the car to take over.

Tesla is currently in pole position, with autopilot features on its Model S that have better lane-keeping, following distance and braking and acceleration features. Taxi app Uber is also muscling in on the action and is opening a robotics research facility in Pittsburgh to build its own fleet of self-driving cars.

It is something of a space race, only on the ground – a road race! And the news that Apple is definitely on the track could change everything.

It is understood that engineers from Apple’s top-secret Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station on the old Concord naval weapons station, a disused World War II-era facility that has 20 miles of paved highways and city streets.

Apple has given itself five years to get a self-driving, electric vehicle on the road. The first Apple Car is expected to cost less than US$40,000 and will go more than 200 miles (321km) on a single charge.

Project Titan is being spearheaded by Apple’s product design vice president Steve Zadesky, a former Ford executive.

Zadesky, it is understood, has been given permission to create a 1,000-strong team and Apple has hired the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz R&D Johann Jungwirth and other seasoned auto industry execs to work at a top secret automotive research lab.

Apple is also believed to be locked in a poaching war with Tesla, one that Tesla is currently winning through 60pc salary increases and US$250,000 bonuses.

According to the correspondence, Apple has been seeking information for the timing for availability of the space at the old US Navy base.

The base is closed to the public and guarded by the military, which suits Apple’s penchant for secrecy very well.

Apple said it will use the facility to test connected vehicle applications and autonomous vehicle technologies.

The highly secure GoMentum Station is understood to have previously been used by Mercedes-Benz and Honda to test self-driving cars.

Google, Tesla, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and several other carmakers are understood to have been issued permits by California to test their self-driving cars on public roads.

GoMentum Station features empty roads, highway overpasses and railway crossings and cattle grids.

Apple Store image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years