Little may be known about Apple’s mysterious self-driving ‘Project Titan’. But despite the fact its exact nature and scale is being kept heavily under wraps, occasionally some interesting titbits of evidence surface that indicate that the iPhone maker may have far more extensive ambitions in the sector than many suspect. The latest indication is news that the company is said to be deep into talks whose eventual goal is the acquisition of struggling self-driving start-up Drive.ai.
Recent media reports suggest Apple is set to acquire Driva.ai for an undisclosed sum. In the past the company has taken on private investment at a valuation of £154 million ($200 million) and has raised a total of $80 million. However, it has since run into trouble raising further investment and is thought to be approaching the end of its cash runway.
Apple is said to be pursuing the acquisition not because it has any great interest in the Drive.ai’s IP but because it sees an opportunity in a readymade team of autonomous vehicle experts. TechCrunch reports that Drive.ai was
“founded by a crack team of graduates from Stanford’s AI lab”,
indicating an impressive talent pool.
A couple of years ago it was thought that Apple had downsized its ambitions in the driverless market, leaving other tech giants to scrabble for position while it focused on pivoting its own business away from hardware to a greater focus on services. It was rumoured that the extent of Apple’s driverless tech ambitions had been reduced to a driverless shuttle service for employees.
That view may well have been reinforced earlier this year when the company announced a suite of new content-based services such as video game streaming platform Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ which will take the fight to Netflix and Amazon Prime and a new beefed-up subscription model for Apple News.
However, the recent extent and character of an Apple recruitment drive for driverless experts now belies that assumption. As well as the reported move for Drive.ai being motivated primarily by recruitment strategy, Apple has also continued to hire designers and engineers with expertise and background in the autonomous vehicles space. Many have been brought over from high profile rivals in the sector such as Tesla.
That’s lead to a significant amount of speculation around what Apple’s ambitions currently are in the self-driving space. It would be a surprise Apple were to eventually reveal itself as a contender to Alphabet’s Waymo, Tesla or even General Motors, who are all heavily invested in taking a major slice of the future driverless market.
But if not then why continue investing in driverless technology even at a downgraded level? Local government records in California show Apple is still actively testing driverless vehicles on the roads. In fact, more so than Tesla, though the company did suspend test drives for several months following a fatal accident involving one of its vehicles in early spring last year. California state records show the following number of vehicles and drivers licensed for test driving in the state:
- GM Cruise: 163 vehicles and 989 drivers
- Waymo: 125 vehicles and 368 drivers
- Apple: 69 vehicles and 110 drivers
- Tesla: 47 vehicles and 136 drivers
Some analysts think that, like Google’s Waymo, Apple are more likely to be focused on a driverless OS rather than planning to manufacture their own vehicles. But for now at least the secrets held by ‘Project Titan’ are being well kept, keeping the outside world speculating as to what exactly the extent of Apple’s ambitions in the sector is.