News reports are confirming that Apple is indeed working on a self-driving vehicle, as this blog hinted recently in the last two paragraphs of a post about Uber. The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 13 that Apple has assigned “several hundred” employees to work on such a car, in a project called “Titan,” as Matt Vella writes for Time.
Chris Smith writes for BGR that Apple CEO Tim Cook appointed Vice President Steve Zadesky — a former Ford engineer who helped lead the teams that came up with the iPod and iPhone — to head Titan. The Journal suggests that Apple’s prototype self-driving vehicle resembles a minivan, but Vella speculates that the Ford 021C concept car designed by Apple “star” designer Marc Newson (who joined Apple last year), could be a hint of what is to come. The Ford 021C was introduced at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show and featured swiveling pedestal seats and lots of LED lighting.
In an article for Quartz, Dan Frommer speculates that Apple’s car will probably not look like certain Toyota models — the Echo and the Camry. Frommer is basing that notion on certain comments in a 17,000-word article in the current New Yorker. The article, Ian Parker’s profile of Apple design chief Jonathan Ive, which Frommer says is “well worth reading,” does not mention Apple’s “supposed car project,” Frommer adds.
Chris Ziegler writes, in an article titled “Will the Apple car be self-driving or not?” appearing on The Verge, that although The Wall Street Journal says no and Reuters says yes, “The truth is they’re both likely right.” Ziegler opines that even if Apple’s car is not fully autonomous like Google’s vision (“lacking even a steering wheel”), it will still have autonomous features, such as crash-imminent braking, and dynamic braking support, in which the systems monitor the road ahead for situations likely to cause collisions and then slow the vehicle down or help to apply the brakes. He writes that such technology also includes lane-keep, which keeps a car from wandering out of lane, and dynamic cruise control, which keeps a car a safe distance from the vehicle in front. In fact, the updated Tesla Model S can change lanes on its own once the driver taps the turn signal, Ziegler notes.
Ziegler writes that Apple is known for taking a measured approach:
Apple is notoriously deliberate about its approach to adding bells and whistles to its products; it’s rarely a first mover. (Just look at Apple Pay and Touch ID as recent examples — neither feature was first to market, but both are the best implementations in their class.) And no one is suggesting the Apple car is close to release — by all appearances, they just started working on it last year. That’s a blink of an eye on the glacial scale of automotive R&D. By the time an Apple car is on sale, it wouldn’t be viable in the marketplace without some manner of autonomous capability. It’d be akin to selling a car today without a USB port or Bluetooth connectivity, or selling a car in 2016 that doesn’t support either CarPlay or Android Auto. Yes, you might be able to do it, but unless you’re playing in the very bottom end of the market — a place Apple is not known to go — it won’t fly.
Then again, it is also possible that Apple will not release an autonomous car to market. The Journal says that Apple might eventually decide not to build a car of its own, because not all of its projects in development become commercial products, Smith writes for BGR.