Apple denies autonomous car dream is over after cutting 200 staff

25 Jan 2019

The Apple logo at its Hong Kong store. Image: Memo34/Depositphotos

This week in IoT, Apple’s autonomous car project faces another major roadblock, whereas Waymo prepares for expansion.

Earlier this week, the Irish internet of things (IoT) space received a boost with news that around 250,000 smart electricity meters will be deployed on behalf of ESB Networks by a consortium consisting of engineering giant Siemens and smart metering firm Kamstrup.

As well as the smart meters network, the consortium will also deploy a remote reading system and a data management system for ESB.

Meanwhile, a new survey by global data centre giant Equinix showed that almost two-thirds (60pc) of Irish IT decision-makers believe data centre hubs will need to be installed in every town due to the rising number of IoT devices.

Apple cuts 200 staff from its autonomous car project

Apple’s plans to release an autonomous car appear to have come across a major roadblock after CNBC reported that it cut 200 staff from the initiative dubbed Project Titan.

In August 2018, Apple rehired one of its former staff members and recent vice-president of engineering at Tesla, Doug Field, to help co-lead the project. Now, the dismissals seem to be the result of some anticipated restructuring under the new leadership.

A spokesperson for Apple confirmed the decision saying: “We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple.

“We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute and that this is the most ambitious machine-learning project ever.”

Waymo to open autonomous car factory in Michigan

Apple’s big tech rival in this space is Waymo, the Google spin-out, which announced it has received approval to build a factory for its autonomous cars in the heart of the US’s auto industry, the state of Michigan.

The company claims it will be the first factory in the world to be 100pc dedicated to the mass production of Level 4 autonomous vehicles. Over the next few years, it said it aims to create hundreds of jobs in the region.

Once established, it will likely integrate its latest hardware into existing vehicles Waymo is partnered with, such as Jaguar and Fiat Chrysler.

“As we begin to commercialise our business and vehicle supply grows, we’re laying the foundation for a scalable, robust vehicle integration plan, starting in Michigan,” the company said in a blogpost.

Amazon delivery robot hits the road

Amazon has debuted its six-wheeled delivery robot, which will soon roam the streets to deliver packages. The Amazon Scout is the size of a small cooler and is designed to travel along pathways at a walking pace.

As part of a trial, customers in a neighbourhood in the state of Washington will start receiving their packages from the robot. A total of six robots will take part in the beta test, delivering packages during daylight hours. The devices will autonomously follow their delivery route but will initially be accompanied by an Amazon employee.

Amazon isn’t the only company to work with a wheeled robot concept, with pizza chain Domino’s revealing its own creation a number of years ago.

Future without IoT device tinkering would be ‘dystopia’

If IoT is to thrive in the future, device manufacturers must be able to allow people to tinker with, or replace, their operating system.

That’s according to Bradley Kuhn, president of the Software Freedom Conservancy, who was speaking at a major Linux conference last week. According to ZDNet, Kuhn warned that a future where Linux could only be installed on laptops, rack-mounted servers and cloud hosts would be “a dystopia”.

“So many devices now are digital, and so many devices now run Linux; so many devices now threaten our privacy, security, our very existence,” Kuhn said.

“And we need the source code for them to be able to solve all those problems. We don’t just need the source code, we need the ability to effectively use the source code, to recompile it and install it. I think we won the do-it-yourself battle on the laptop … but in IoT devices we’ve lost this battle completely at the moment, and we have to regain ground.”

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The Apple logo at its Hong Kong store. Image: Memo34/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic