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Behind Apple’s Scaled-back Car Plans

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb at Bloomberg Technology report on how Apple has scaled back its automotive ambitions from becoming an outright competitor to Tesla Motors to developing an underlying self-driving car platform for now. The Project Titan team has suffered from hundreds of layoffs, reassignments, and engineers leaving on their own, and the refocused team reportedly has a year to determine the feasibility of the platform and decide on whether to design its own vehicle or partner with existing carmakers. It’s possible that Apple waded into the murky automotive waters with an overinflated view of its ability to reinvent a complex and entrenched industry, but we can hope that Apple’s continued presence will at least spur carmakers to improve the software aspects of their automobiles.favicon follow link


Comments about Behind Apple’s Scaled-back Car Plans
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B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2016-10-19 14:47
I've been wrong before, but I always thought the idea of Apple actually building a self-driving car was pie in the sky. Not that they don't have the money to do so if they wanted, but it would be a huge investment, dwarfing anything they've done in the past—and the likelihood of recouping that investment seems vanishingly small.

Working on the artificial intelligence to run such a car seems to me to be more up their alley and the possible spin-off technologies are legion. This would mean a more manageable investment with a more promising payoff. Given Apple's existing connections to automakers it should not be difficult to find a partner if their auto-AI pans out.

As for all the layoffs, people with those kinds of skills are undoubtedly in great demand, given the growing enthusiasm for artificial intelligence and smart cars. They should have no trouble finding employment elsewhere. They were not, as has happened so often in the past, laid off on the down side of a tech boom. The boom is still booming.

There have been a variety of visionary solutions to traffic congestion put forward in recent years, most of which involve huge investments in infrastructure. Given how starved transportation infrastructure in the U.S. has been for decades, these solutions are highly improbable.

Smart and self-driving cars, on the other hand, utilize existing road systems—though these, too, need improvement. Many of the systems necessary to expedite the use of self-driving cars and their lesser smart-car cousins are already in place, like GPS satellites, cell phone and WiFi networks. So, unlike the more spectacular and impractical solutions, these can be developed more naturally. They will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Most important, perhaps, they are feasible and don't depend to a large extent on public sector funding that is not already called for, like improvements to roads, bridges, airports, harbors and railroads.

The public will subsidize the new technologies by buying the new products as they become available, as they have done with computers, smart phones and smart TVs. Smart cars, for example, are entering the mainstream seamlessly, promoted for their safety features. Self-driving cars will be a bit more problematic, but they are already under consideration for businesses like Uber. Imagine a self-driving taxi with a robot "driver" who can cuss and spit like a real human taxi driver. ;-) The mind boggles.