Apple’s autonomous driving technology focused on the ride hailing market

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