Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly said that autonomous cars will be the mother of all AI projects. The company had been secretly working on autonomous vehicle program called Project Titan for sometime and had recently pivoted from designing its own autonomous car to handling only the software component. Now, the company has dismissed just over 200 employees from Project Titan raising questions about Apple’s scope in the space. The shift in strategy comes after the company brought back Apple veteran and Tesla engineering vice president Doug Field to lead Project Titan alongside Bob Mansfield.
According to CNBC, the dismissal is being described internally as anticipated restructuring under the new leadership. The report also notes that other employees who were impacted by the restructuring of Project Titan are staying at Apple but are moving to different parts of the company. A spokesperson for the company has acknowledged the layoffs but adds that the company still sees opportunity in the space. “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,” the spokesperson told CNBC.
Apple was initially contemplating the idea of building its own autonomous vehicle but has since pivoted towards building the framework and software needed to power such vehicles. Its CEO Tim Cook has also pivoted from calling autonomous vehicles as the biggest project ever carried out by the company to calling company’s initiatives in health as the key to its future. “I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, ‘What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?’ it will be about health,” Cook told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in an interview early this month.
In 2016, Apple did a similar lay off of employees from Project Titan group as it shifted strategy. Waymo, GM’s Cruise and Tesla are the leaders in the autonomous vehicles space but all these companies are waiting to test fully autonomous vehicles. At CES 2019 early this month, a number of tech companies and traditional automakers alike showed their own version of fully-self driving technology.
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Apple, however, has stayed mum about its plans in the recent months and even seems to have scaled back operations to focus on software. The iPhone maker and the fourth largest publicly held company in the world seems to be losing out in an area that could become the next battleground for technology companies. In the past few month, venture and strategic investors have poured billions in startups like Zoox, Pony.AI, Aurora, May Mobility and Embark. Dyson, the British company behind popular household appliances, has also announced plans to launch an electric vehicle and is building one in Singapore.