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Apple purchased a self-driving car startup and has hired dozens of its engineers, presumably to boost the development of its own autonomous vehicle systems.
The Cupertino tech giant confirmed this week that it has acquired Drive.ai, a Mountain View startup working on self-driving car technology. The news comes just a few days before Drive.ai was set to close its doors and lay off all of its staff. Over the past few weeks, Drive.ai has ceased all operations.
Drive.ai was rumored to be talking with multiple buyers — including Apple — but Apple apparently won out. It isn’t clear what the purchase price was, but Apple is said to have paid less than the $77 million that Drive.ai raised in venture capital, Axios reported.
Earlier this month, a report from The Information suggested that Apple was eyeing Drive.ai to boost its own self-driving car efforts. That report described the potential deal as an “acqui-hire,” which hints that Apple is more interested in Drive.ai’s employees instead of its technology.
According to Axios, most of Apple’s hits are in the engineering and product design sphere.
Drive.ai was first founded in 2015 by a group of Stanford students. It made headlines last year when it began testing fully autonomous cars on Texas roads without a human safety driver. The startup also launched a self-driving shuttle service in certain cities in Texas.
But, in recent times, Drive.ai ran into a series of roadblocks — which apparently lead to the startup seeking a buyer.
What Is Apple Working on?
More than anything else, the acquisition suggests that Apple isn’t done developing its own autonomous vehicle systems, codenamed Project Titan. Despite a report suggesting that Apple laid off nearly 200 employees from its self-driving car project, the company still appears to be working on the technology.
It still isn’t clear whether Apple will simply create underlying autonomous systems or whether it will make an actual Apple Car (or van). As part of its self-driving car efforts, the company is reportedly working on an autonomous campus shuttle that will ferry Apple staff between its various Silicon Valley locations.
While we don’t know exactly what form Apple’s self-driving car technology will take, there have been various glimpses into what the company is working on.
Apple has filed a slew of patents related to self-driving cars or autonomous systems and has released documentation related to machine learning for self-driving tech. Despite a series of road bumps, the company also still fields one of the largest fleets of self-driving cars on California roads.
Just recently, Apple was granted a patent for technology that would allow an autonomous vehicle to be remotely controlled by an authorized operator. The patent specifically suggests that the tech could be used in health-related emergencies to get a person to a hospital.