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[ Issue 149 Page 13 ] Friday, November 25, 2016, 12:56:19 Hyunseung Hwang Staff Reporter aguno@kaist.ac.kr

     With the United States government deciding to back the self-driving car movement through federal auto safety regulators on September 19, the autonomous car industry has started to grow. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has been focusing on creating the core software and systems. Tesla has been testing its self-driving vehicles for recent months. Uber is preparing to pick up passengers in self-driving cars and purchased Otto for 700 million USD. Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler are expecting to launch their self-driving vehicles on the road within five years.

Then What Has Apple Been Up To?

     Apple is working on a self-driving electric car of its own under a project code named Titan. Apple started out the project with full commitment from 2014 to early 2016. Apple responded to the thinning demand for iPhones -- which is responsible for half of Apple’s revenue -- with a spike on their Research and Development budget by more than 125 percent, a total of 2.6 billion USD, of their budget for 2015 to invest in a new source of income. Project Titan started out with 200 employees, but by the middle of 2016, the number of engineers working on the project increased to over a thousand. Apple has also hired experts from major companies including Ford, General Motors, and Tesla, as well as from smaller ones such as MIT Motorsports, Autoliv, General Dynamics, and Concept Systems. Apple has also been busy buying a large proportion of Sunnyvale, California, where SixtyEight Research is located. Apple has also hired traditionally non-automobile-related engineers including battery experts from Samsung. Apple ultimately gave a hint that they are pushing for a launch of the Apple car by 2020.

Change of Plans

     Despite its commitment, however, Apple seems to be showing signs of trouble due to multiple departures and confusion regarding the direction of the project. Apple has decided to cut dozens of employees according to anonymous speakers from Apple earlier in September. After Steven Zadesky, the initial head of the project, left the company in June 2016, Apple postponed the launch to 2021. According to other speakers, Apple is said to be struggling to determine what it can bring to the self-driving car industry that others cannot. Bob Mansfield took over the project in July and decided to change the course of the Apple car. Manfield has even recruited the head of BlackBerry’s automobile software division, Dan Dodge.

Partnership for Automotive Design

     Though the Titan Project is prioritizing the development of the driving system, Apple seems to not have given up completely on designing its own vehicle and is still pursuing a partnership with vehicle technology companies. Rumors say that Apple has been contacting McLaren and Lit Motors for a potential partnership. However, Wayne Bruce, the spokesperson of McLaren, claims Apple and McLaren are “not in discussion with Apple in respect of any potential investment,” although he did not deny the fact that Apple and McLaren indeed have had some conversations. Unlike the traditional automotive companies, McLaren possesses the underlying technology to create Formula One racecars but lacks the capability to create business models focused for mass production. However, with the resources of Apple, McLaren could bring its technology to the public if they decide to work with Apple in the first place. Rumors also suggest that Apple may be considering purchasing Lit Motors, a startup electric motorcycle company in San Francisco. Apple has already scouted many Lit Motor employees to Project Titan. But whether purchasing a startup company with no experience and production base is beneficial for Apple is not clear.

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