Apple’s Project Titan initiative has shifted from building its own automobile to designing autonomous driving software so the Cupertino giant, according to Business Insider this morning, now appears to be eyeing the ride-hailing and ride-sharing market.

Apple’s technology is where Google “was three years ago,” a source said.

To be clear, Apple reportedly has no plans at this point to go it alone and try to become the next Uber. According to one person who has seen Apple’s work-in-progress technology, and that of other self-driving platforms, the iPhone maker is “just trying to play catch up”.

Yesterday, an extensive report by The New York Times detailed Project Titan’s reduced scale, claiming the initiative is now focused on a custom shuttle service designed to transport Apple’s employees between corporate buildings in Silicon Valley.

That system is just an intermediary step, the source suggested.

Here’s an excerpt from the Business Insider report:

To test its autonomous technology, Apple is operating a commuter car service for employees that ferries staff between Apple’s campus and the nearby town of Palo Alto, California.

This is similar to how Google’s self-driving cars began, by shuttling employees around the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California. By 2014—the point in the development of Google’s technology that Apple has now reached—the company’s self-driving car technology still suffered from many constraints.

On a brighter note, the iPhone maker has apparently resumed hiring and is now seeking out people with autonomous vehicle software experience.

“Even if they have this autonomous vehicle specialty, and they get to a mature point on it, they don’t have the operations expertise. It’s the same thing that Waymo is facing,” said the source.

More than 250 companies and startups are currently working on self-driving cars and related technologies, with companies like Uber, Tesla and traditional automakers such as GM all developing their proprietary autonomous driving technology.

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Google is the furthest along in self-driving technology, now spun out into its own company called Waymo. Before it’s turned into a commercial operation, Waymo will need to be thoroughly trialled—they’re currently running a test ride-hailing service in Phoenix.

Just how far Apple’s technology is behind some of its rivals is anyone’s guess. For what it’s worth, the Cupertino company could be leaning on partnerships with ride-hailing services to help it turn this technology into a new business.

Notably, Apple last year invested $1 billion into Uber’s Chinese competitor Didi Chuxing and now has a seat on its board. It’s also unclear whether Apple’s software might be included in CarPlay or offered to car makers standalone.

Tim Cook said in a June interview with Bloomberg that his company is “focusing on autonomous systems” which he likened to “the mother of all AI projects”.

“In terms of autonomous systems, what we’ve said is that we’re very focused on autonomous systems from a core technology point of view,” he said.

“We do have a large project going, and we’re making a big investment in this.”

Image: Apple CarPlay on iOS 11

  • Bacillus

    Ahh, well-timed – amidst all iPhone 8 turmoil – and nicely curated/downplayed, this Titanic landing of the Titan project that was destined to disrupt the car industry.
    Now demoted as some internal Didi-Chuxing cab service with onboard Carplay (at its best…)
    Even the most remote followers wondered how unaligned Titan was when it comes to targets, standards, level of conceptuality and measurable prerformance. With the best car industry talent leaving – and TC in denial about how the whole team failed.
    After they announced the disruption of the car industry 2 years ago, now crawling back, incapable of demo’ing even a prototype, Cook at least makes his company look awkward. The C++ or Swift issue is just an example of the indecisiveness.
    Thanks on behalf of Apple for all realignment language, indispensable to mock up serious failure and retain that infallable image these days.

    • Jay

      Incapable, I doubt that.  has the money and resources to do pretty much anything they want. They are waiting it out.

      • Bacillus

        They started quarreling with arrived car industry specialists that they hired, missed deadlines, focus, targets. While time to market is critical. Competitors are miles ahead now. Money isn’t the answer to anything.

      • Jay

        Yes I know, that’s I said and resources. It’s like they were rushing themselves to get it done. They are new to field so naturally it will take a bit longer to get started and take a lot more time. Time they don’t have if they need people working on multiple projects . I still think if they really wanted to succeed they would. Not sure how the outcome would be though.

      • Bacillus

        I think on the long term it has become inevitable to buy themselves in somewhere. Could very well be that Tesla (lots of know-how, tech advantage, limited financial momentum) and themsleves will become convicted to each other because of their complementary strengths/weaknesses