Apple’s Project Titan driverless car team laid off 190 people

Chris Davies - Feb 27, 2019, 4:25pm CST
Apple’s Project Titan driverless car team laid off 190 people

Apple’s self-driving car team is set to shed 190 jobs, with the Cupertino company confirming that it’ll be engineers that make up the majority of the layoffs. Project Titan, Apple’s internal name for the autonomous driving division, has had a tumultuous time over the past few years, amid changes of direction and evolving goals.

Initially, leaks suggested, Apple’s goal was ambitious. The company planned to make a full, driverless car of its own, rivaling Alphabet’s Waymo and projects underway at a number of automakers. Project Titan got underway in earnest in 2014, it’s believed, with Apple spreading the team around facilities in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, CA.

Over time, though, the strategy changed. Faced with the complexities of building a whole car, Apple shifted its goals. Instead, Project Titan would attempt to carve out a niche for the company as a supplier, offering advanced electronics for things like driver-assistance systems.

That could still be a lucrative business, but even with autonomous test vehicles out on the road, Apple’s progress in the segment is unclear. The company cut hundreds of jobs from Project Titan back in 2016 amid the change in strategy, but still had team members working on the systems. Now, more jobs have been shed.

190 employees will be laid off from April 16, Apple confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle. Word of the job cuts was first raised in a letter to the California Employment Development Department. 38 are engineering program managers, while 33 are hardware engineers and 31 product design engineers. The remaining 22 are software engineers.

The nature of Apple’s testing, and the systems it’s trialing, are still a relative mystery. Project Titan remains one of the more secretive projects within the company, though periodic insight has been gained courtesy of regulatory reports. Apple, like others undertaking autonomous car trials on public roads in California, is legally required to file annual summaries of how those vehicles have performed.

That data must include records on how many miles of autonomous testing were performed, as well as how many times the driverless system was disengaged so that a human safety driver could retake control. In Apple’s most recent filing, covering the period between November 31, 2017, and December 1, 2018, it reported just short of 80,000 miles of test driving. In the same period, Waymo’s cars drove almost 1.3m miles.

As for disengagements, Apple’s vehicles required human intervention far more frequently. Its cars disengaged every 1.1 miles, whereas Waymo managed more than 11k miles between each disengagement.

Where all this leaves Apple’s plans in the automotive space remains to be seen. At one point, the company was believed to be attempt to insert itself into dashboards, hoping to build partnerships for Apple-powered infotainment software. However leaks from negotiations between the company and traditional automakers have indicated that the reception there has been relatively frosty.

At the same time, Google has scored a number of wins for Android in the same arena. The Polestar 2, the electric car announced today by Volvo and Geely’s performance EV brand, has an infotainment system completely built on Android. It features the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and the Google Play Store. Audi, too, has inked a deal with Google to build its next-generation MMI infotainment system on Android.

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