Seven years later, Apple cars are still on the horizon


Minutes after news broke this week, Gerfield, the former Tesla executive who led the Apple car project, defected to Ford. This Cupertino joint venture is called the plenary meeting.

Field explained that he joined the Detroit automaker to have the opportunity to “try to make a difference,” and he is the latest in a long list of withdrawals from Apple’s secret project to build self-driving cars, Project Titan.

He is the fourth person in charge of the project to leave in seven years, and the team has bleed Three other senior managers In the past few months. The staff was nervous because the media speculated that Apple might unplug the car.

But according to two people present, in the half-hour briefing, Apple executives said that they would reorganize, but would not lay off staff. By Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Kevin Lynch, who has been leading the Apple Watch and health projects, will take over the Titan project. The car is still on the road.

Laurie Yoler, Tesla’s founding board director and former Zoox board member, said that despite the turmoil, it is too early for Apple’s seven-year car manufacturing effort.

“I know a lot of people who have been there in the past few months,” she said. “There are not many, a dozen or so, but they have all disappeared recently. They come from companies such as Waymo, Zoox, and Airbus. These people are really predecessors.”

Car test decline

Nevertheless, after so many years, Apple seems to be not far from launching a car. The company has never acknowledged the existence of Project Titan, although it must submit a report on how many miles its test car has driven in California.

These prototypes are usually white Lexus models with a series of sensors on the roof and are driven frequently enough for architectural design photographer Jean Bai to sit outside Cupertino and surrounding Apple facilities to take pictures .

But the 19,000 “autonomous driving miles” that Apple drove last year is only a small part of the 630,000 miles completed by Alphabet. Wimo California Automotive Project. The number is also decreasing; it only accounts for a quarter of the 2018 total. Waymo also stated that its vehicles drove an average of about 30,000 miles between the interventions of its test drivers, compared to Apple’s 145 miles.

The early optimism of the Apple project was evident in 2015, when CEO Tim Cook stated at a Wall Street Journal meeting that he wanted people to “have an iPhone experience in their cars.” He added: “All of this is to make your life outside the car seamlessly connect with your life in the car.” At the time, the smartphone market seemed to be saturated and revenue was declining. Apple needs a new product.

But this iPhone maker is not the only company whose early vision proved to be more ambitious than reality. Google’s Larry Page said the robot taxi may be “bigger than Google.” In 2016, Tesla’s Elon Musk called self-driving cars “basically a solved problem” and predicted “fully autonomous driving”. .. In less than two years”.

By 2017, Facebook’s head of operations, Sheryl Sandberg, attracted a German auto show with this prologue: “I have good news: we are the only company in Silicon Valley that does not manufacture cars.”

Apple’s advantage is unknown

But the promise of self-driving cars is too early. The leaders who spent billions of dollars to build this technology have not come close to recovering their investment. Some people have failed: Uber and Lyft have both abandoned their projects in the past year.

“In 2010, when all these projects were launched by technology companies in robotic taxis, there was a lot of arrogance,” said Angus Pacala, CEO of Ouster, a digital lidar group. “They said,’We will promote the development of the automotive industry like Nokia and BlackBerry’. This is very different from the truth.”

Today, this revolution looks more and more distant, but Apple’s advantage in the market is hard to discern.

Bernstein analyst Arndt Ellinghorst said: “I just don’t know where Apple will have technological advantages.” “It can only be in a state of autonomy that the world is chasing. It’s not a good idea to have no advantage in a hard-to-money market.”

Apple has supply chain expertise, a desirable brand, and arguably the world’s most important ability to combine hardware with software and services. Nonetheless, little information about its product portfolio suggests that it can surpass Tesla in battery performance, or beat Mercedes and BMW in designing interiors or mass manufacturing.

Apple’s test car on California roads © Jean Bai

recent Licensing To give some hints, the team is now studying all aspects of the rider experience, not necessarily the car itself.

Only last month, Apple obtained a patent for external lighting technology that can display text, speed and light warnings; the other is for a safety system, involving airbags deployed from the roof and passenger seat belts.

The other is stylish car lighting, which guides passengers to charge iPhone or put down coffee in the dark. Other patents granted last month relate to visual sensors for autonomous driving, suspension systems and traffic notifications.

“Apple can’t build cars”

For Manuela Papadopol, a veteran in the automotive industry and CEO of Designated Driver, a startup specializing in remote-driving cars, all signs indicate that Apple is shrinking its ambitions. Car steering enhances the digital cockpit and redefines elements of the passenger experience.

“There is no way on earth for Apple to make cars,” she said.

“Don’t get me wrong: I think Apple’s opportunities in the automotive field are incredible-not in manufacturing cars, but in interior spaces. They can project augmented reality and virtual reality onto the windows. This is where the opportunity lies. “

At the same time, several people who withdrew from the Titan Project said that it has not yet chosen a clear path forward. Existing automakers are rarely scared by iPhone manufacturers invading their turf.

“I really don’t understand that some people worry that Apple is [car] Industry,” said Sasha Ostojic, an operating partner of the venture capital group Playground Global and a former engineer at General Motors’ autonomous unit Cruise.

“When I was running the project on Cruise, I interviewed a group of people from Apple’s special product group”-where the Titans are-“Most of them were disillusioned and said,’Well, most of them Research has no direction, we really don’t know where it is going. We would rather engage in a serious project.'”

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