Details on Apple’s ‘Project Titan’ autonomous car

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Words: Nile Bijoux   |   Photos 9to5 Mac
9 Apr 2019

As iPhone sales slow, Apple is looking to diversify its revenue streams. A credit card and a streaming platform akin to Netflix are both on the cards, as is a self-driving car.

The latter, internally called ‘Project Titan’, has been in development for a few years now. It existed only as a rumour until Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed it was being worked on in 2017, calling it “the mother of all A.I. projects.”

A few months later, a Lidar-equipped test mule was captured on video. Instead of being a ground-up self-driving car, it looked like Apple was instead developing a system to make existing cars autonomous.

Despite the progress, it looked like an actual launch was still a few years away. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo put the launch date of Titan between 2023 and 2025 at the earliest.

Adding more fuel to the Internet fires are notable hirings. Computer scientist and A.I. thought leader, Ian Goodfellow, is to join Apple’s Special Project Group this month. Goodfellow is known for creating ‘generative adversarial networks (GANs),’ a machine learning system capable of generating hyper-realistic imagery. He previously worked at Google. It might sound unrelated to autonomous cars but other groups have used GANs to train self-driving cars.

Also pilfered by Apple was Michael Schwekutsch, a high-ranking Tesla engineer. At Apple, he is the senior director of engineering on the Special Project Group. Fellow ex-Tesla employee, Andrew Kim, also joined Apple as a designer in December.

Despite these high profile hirings, it looks like Apple is still behind schedule. Some think that the 2025 deadline can only be achieved by going down the ride-hailing route, following in the footsteps of Uber, Lyft and Google’s Waymo. They require Level 4 autonomy (fully autonomous in most situations, with a manual override) at the least. Apple could theoretically implement its system into the iOS Maps app and sell it to enterprises that already have taxi infrastructure.

Personal self-driving cars will likely start development after 2026, with availability possibly in the 2030s. As to cost, Kevin Clark, CEO of self-driving car tech company Aptiv, told overseas media that autonomous hardware and the supporting software could range between $US70,000 and $150,000. A lot, in other words.

It’s possible Apple will launch the software ecosystem first, for ride-hailing or allowing other manufacturers to automate their vehicles, then work on the car in order to keep money coming in while development continues. It also lets other technology catch up with its goals, like solid-state batteries, for example.

Reports have emerged saying Apple is indeed developing “batteries, electric motors, special seats and interior components,” as well as working on the software side of EV and autonomous things. Apple can already build capable processors, with the A12 and A12X Bionic chips coming with neural network hardware and the ability to perform millions of operations per second. Project Titan will need this sort of computational horsepower to make complex instant decisions while driving.

Should Apple build an autonomous car, other rumoured features include advanced headlight and infrared systems for detecting objects up to 183m. Augmented reality could appear, working on the glass of the car. A sunroof has also been linked with an Apple car, largely because it’s built in California.

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