A former head of Tesla Model 3 operations has reportedly joined Apple’s self-driving car project. Doug Field, who oversaw the car’s production, was reassigned by CEO Elon Musk in April before he left the company for good the following month. A new report claims he’s now returned to his former employer Apple.
Field worked as Apple’s vice president of Mac hardware engineering for five years, before leaving for Tesla in 2013. John Gruber claimed on his Daring Fireball blog that, after Field’s departure in May from perhaps the world’s most famous electric car maker, he’s now working on Apple’s mysterious “Project Titan” with Apple veteran Bob Mansfield in charge. Mansfield has previously been described as a close associate of Steve Jobs, but while his involvement in the company was minimal at one stage, a September 2016 report claimed he was heading up the project. The company confirmed to Gruber that Field has returned to Apple but provided no more details.
Apple’s autonomous car project has followed a curious development process. An October 2016 report claimed Apple had dropped its plans to develop its own fully autonomous car, instead working with automakers to build third-party systems. The following year, the project released its first official research, while a Lexus sports utility vehicle near the campus showed Apple testing 12 lidar sensors on the roof. CEO Tim Cook has described autonomy as “the mother of all A.I. projects.”
Field appears an ideal fit for the project. The Model 3 entered production over a year ago, and production has gradually ramped up to reach 5,000 cars per week, alongside 2,000 S and X models. The firm has a backlog of around 400,000 reservations at $1,000 each, and Musk recently claimed that the company is rapidly adding new orders. Tesla is also building an autonomous car system, with pre-orders priced at $3,000, that uses an A.I. chip capable of processing 100 times more frames per second than the Nvidia Drive PX 2 used in existing Model 3s.
The autonomous car race is heating up. While it’s unclear when or in which form Apple’s car may take, Musk has stated that the A.I. chip to power autonomy will ship in the next four to six months, after which the company will start unlocking relevant features.