Apple shrinks autonomous vehicle team by 200 employees

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple has dismissed as many as 200 people from Project Titan, its secretive autonomous vehicle project, reports CNBC. In a statement Apple confirmed the change, and said that the affected employees would be moved on to projects in other parts of the company. The changes are relatively small, given that as many as 5,000 people were either working on the project or had access to its details as of July last year.

Confirming the restructuring, Apple said that former Titan employees will “support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple.” It described the project’s focus as “autonomous systems” rather than vehicles, echoing comments from CEO Tim Cook which suggested that the company’s focus has expanded beyond cars. The company described the initiative as “the most ambitious machine learning project ever.”

The exact scope of Project Titan remains a mystery. After reportedly beginning with the aim of developing both self-driving hardware and software, the plans were later scaled back to just developing software, with Apple partnering with car manufacturers such as Volkswagen to provide the hardware. The New York Times has reported that “hundreds” of employees left the project between 2016 and 2018 as a result of these changes in direction.

CNBC reports that this latest change is being described internally as a restructuring, thought to be related to the project’s relatively new leadership. Last year, Apple hired Tesla’s chief vehicle engineer Doug Field, who is reportedly running Project Titan alongside longtime executive Bob Mansfield.

However, despite this apparent reduced focus, the amount of self-driving cars Apple is testing on the roads has continued to increase, with the company having more registered test vehicles in California than Google’s autonomous spin-off Waymo as of March 2018.

Comments

#AppleIsDoomed

I’d still prefer Lamborghini and drive it myself.

I rather Apple work with Cities to improve traffic Congestion! Without better traffic Management, a bunch new self-driving vehicles will just make things worse.

We need businesses to get on board with the newest platform, iWorkFromHome.

The only thing apple is good at is the iPhone. And it’s not that good anymore.

How so?

Also iPad and Apple Watch are the benchmarks for their categories.

Mac OS remains solid, but yeah the hardware would benefit from a bit more user focus and less on differentiators like the TouchBar or the incumbent Mac Pro design. Quality of components like displays and trackpads remain mostly unrivaled though (completely unrivaled in the case of trackpads).

Curious move. Are they not going to enter the car industry anymore?

Maybe they found that it is better to just straight up buy the technology. Apple buying Tesla? Would make sense on many ends.

They still have at least 2,300 people working on Titan.

If an Apple self-driving car were to clip a barrier as it reversed out of a driveway, would that be #bendgate?

"You’re driving it wrong"

This joke is lame enough when it’s applied correctly, this is just awful.

Okay fine you get a free bumper ya happy?

That’s a better one, good work

Really curious if they have any hope of catching up on driverless tech. Seems every time we turn around the project is shrunk or changed. Waymo, Nvidia, GM, and Tesla all have a lot of miles driven for deep learning training.

The article does reference that the number of cars involved has been steadily increasing.

I find it amusing that Apple received the same benefit from Trump’s corporate tax cuts as AT&T, yet nobody is jumping on their shit about this like they did AT&T when they announced cuts.

Sure it’s a smaller number of employees but Apple also has half the number of global employees that AT&T does, and they didn’t just absorb another massive company with a ton of redundant roles.

Apple also didn’t lay these employees off, they moved them to other projects.

Good point. Guess I missed that. Details are important!

The word "dismissed" in the first sentence is definitely confusing.

the most ambitious machine learning project ever

Typical apple hyperbole. They’ve clearly not been paying any attention whatsoever to what the Chinese government has been doing to its citizens.

Or the Five Eyes countries.

As an Australian, we can’t afford them

It makes more sense for tech companies to provide software to established automakers for autonomous vehicles. Leave the hardware to the established manufacturers. Apple is probably smart in not trying to develop the hardware themselves.

Seems like a lot of people are taking this as a negative sign for Project Titan… but it’s just the normal evolution of an immensely complex project. They learn as they go, and sometimes the things they learn call for re-thinking parts of their approach, or adapting to new phases of the project. If the Apple Car is like the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, iPod, or Mac, it’ll be the best product in its market. There is no reason to think Apple isn’t capable of changing the game again.

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