Apple car struggles detailed in new report – project demos, changes in teams and leadership

The struggles of the Apple Car project have been detailed in a new report by The Information. The report explains how the tumultuous development of the ambitious project has been plagued by selective demos, mapping issues, unrealistic expectations, team changes, and management trust.

For those following the Apple Car project rumors and leaks over the past many years, this is a fascinating look into what has been happening at one of the biggest tech companies in the world that is looking to enter a new category of product, but nobody really knows when it will actually happen.

iOS 16 - Apple Car

Apple car project keeps driving into troubles

Apple Car and AR/VR headset are the next two products that people have been anticipating thanks to the constant drip-feeding of rumors and leaks. While the AR/VR headset’s launch is close, Apple’s car project, also known internally as Project Titan, is in disarray. Not only does the project have no deadline for launching, but the vision behind the project has also changed many times, perhaps only second to the number of changes in the team members that have worked on the car.

Project Titan’s vision was reset in 2020 to be an electric vehicle with revolutionary battery technology that would deliver a longer range and better power consumption. Patents filed by Apple suggest that the car would have LiDAR scanners, external LED and AR displays, a smart sunroof, a large-scale MagSafe charging system, and more.

The Information has come out with a new piece that details the issues with the project and how the progress is, based on interviews with 20 people who have worked on the car project.

To date, Apple has created a number of self-driving prototypes of its car that work perfectly on some select roads. These driving tests are recorded using drones to demo to the upper management, including Tim Cook. Despite the success of these demos, the reality is that these prototypes do not work well on any other roads.

Inside Apple, executives hailed the demonstration as a success. The vehicles showed they could drive without relying on highly detailed, three-dimensional road maps, which most rival self-driving-car programs require. Titan managers hoped to ditch these costly and unscalable high-definition maps en route to one day building and selling a fully automated car that could work almost anywhere in the world without a steering wheel or pedals, making Apple responsible for the car’s behavior and the safety of its occupants.

The prototypes couldn’t succeed on roads near Apple’s own headquarters – they had trouble even staying in their lanes and nearly hit a jogger too on one occasion.

Team members blame these issues on the constantly changing goals of the project as well as the regular change in leadership on the project. Over the past year, Project Titan has lost several key engineers and leaders.

The project’s director of autonomous systems, CJ Moore, resigned in May join a global automotive technology company, Luminar. Former Apple Car chief Doug Field joined Ford Motors as chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer, Apple’s former global head of battery development Soonho Ahn joined Volkswagen to develop batteries for its electric vehicle (EV) projects, and former engineer for Special Projects Group, Micheal Schwekutsch joined Archer as its senior vice president of engineering.  Three other engineers have left Apple to join electric aviation startups.

Some of the engineers on the Project Titan team believe that they waste precious time with demonstrations that only work on certain routes but nowhere else. A former Uber engineer told The Information that if you spend enough money, you can get a self-driving car to work well on almost any fixed route. However, Apple is the kind of company that relies on demos to get internal approvals from upper management and it is certain that the demos are not intended to be representative of any final product.

Apple has been spending more than a billion dollars per year on Project Titan. So far, it is unclear when the company could show something for it to the public. The report says that even folks like Craig Federighi are skeptical of the project.

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