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Although the fact that Apple has ambitions to develop car technology may be one of the company’s worst-kept secrets, actual details on what Apple is specifically up to have remained vague at best, ranging from suggestions that the company is planning to create a completely autonomous vehicle to the more modest idea that Apple is focusing on developing in-car technology that would be adopted by other car makers.
The wide range of rumours and speculation may also be fuelled by revelations over the past few years that Apple has struggled to break into the mainstream auto industry, suggesting that the company had refocused its ambitions on “autonomous car systems.” Over the past year, however, we’ve seen Apple showing signs of a renewed interest in creating an actual vehicle, patenting technology related to physical car components, and hiring senior engineers and designers from Google’s Waymo project and more recently from Tesla.
However, according to inside sources speaking with CNBC, Apple has now slashed the team working on Project Titan by over 200 employees, layoffs that were later acknowledged by an Apple spokesperson, who indicated that the move does not suggest problems for the vehicle project.
“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.”Apple
While this isn’t the first time that Project Titan has seen cutbacks, according to sources inside Apple the dismissals from the group this time around are being seen as a simple restructuring — something that was expected after Apple wooed veteran engineer Doug Field back from Tesla last summer to lead Project Titan alongside Bob Mansfield. Further, with recent reports suggesting that as many as 5,000 employees could be assigned to the project, the elimination of 200 employees represents a relatively small reduction in the overall team size.
Not all of the cutbacks in the Titan team are direct layoffs, with many of the employees staying at Apple and simply being reassigned to other projects within the company — projects in areas such as machine learning that may even ultimately contribute to Project Titan.
Other than acknowledging the layoffs and that the company is working on “autonomous systems,” Apple remains quiet about exactly what its intentions are. While a partnership with Volkswagen last year for self-driving employee shuttles suggested a possible shift, many now believe, based on more recent developments, that this was more of a pilot project for Apple’s ultimate objective of creating a completely autonomous car. Well-connected analysts such as Ming-Chi Kuo have also gone on the record predicting that Apple is in fact working on an actual consumer product that is expected to be released by the year 2025.