Apple’s development of a self-driving car has proven arduous and massively challenging for the company. The Information today published an extensive chronology of the project so far. It covers some familiar ground for anyone who’s been following Project Titan over the years, like a revolving door of leadership, high turnover across the team, and shifting goalposts around what Apple is even trying to accomplish with the large effort. But the report goes beyond recounting the project’s history and stumbles.
The Information also reveals some interesting new details. Craig Federighi, Apple’s software chief and a key executive at the company, is said to be “particularly skeptical” of Project Titan. Owing to all the setbacks and reset objectives, it’s reportedly mocked in other parts of Apple. And there are numerous examples of Apple’s struggles with software; The Information says the company has more than once fallen into the problem of “demoware,” where its test vehicles can perform well on predetermined routes — but quickly run into issues when navigating unknown territory, constantly handing control over to the backup driver.
One of the more alarming parts of the report is an incident that occurred earlier this year with a jogger who was crossing the street. Instead of stopping to let the pedestrian cross, the vehicle “only slightly adjusted its path,” requiring its backup driver to slam the brakes to avoid a collision. Apple concluded that the car likely would’ve struck the jogger if not for the human driver intervening.
Jony Ive reportedly advised the Titan team to lean into a weird, futuristic look
These near-accidents happen for everyone trying to push along the self-driving category, including Waymo, but Apple’s setbacks have been made worse by the frequent loss of executives who have steered Titan’s direction at one point or another. The biggest blow was the departure of Doug Field last year; more recently, machine learning director Ian Goodfellow left the company due to its return-to-office policies. Kevin Lynch, who previously led the creation of watchOS, is now overseeing Project Titan.
As for what the eventual Apple Car will look like, you can expect it to embrace a futuristic design both inside and out. Apple is reportedly hoping to get the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s okay to build a car without a traditional steering wheel or brake pedal. Longtime Apple designer Jony Ive, who still collaborates with the company, has reportedly advised the Project Titan team to “lean into the weirdness of the vehicle’s design and not try to hide its sensors.”
The Information says the current design “has four seats that face inward so passengers can talk to one another and a curved ceiling similar to the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle.” And the company’s designers have discussed large displays that rise from behind those seats and automatically lower when not in use; the next-generation version of CarPlay that Apple announced at WWDC is likely a preview of what we’ll see on those screens.
Apple is rumored to be targeting a 2025 launch for its self-driving vehicle. The company is reportedly exploring how to disguise a near-final design of the vehicle for testing on public roads as soon as next year.