Apple has recruited a former Tesla senior designer to help in the development of its secretive automotive projects. Andrew Kim parted ways with Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company after two years to join the Cupertino-based company on December 11. While at Tesla, Kim worked on virtually every major design project as a creative manager for vehicle user interfaces, for example the Model 3 Autopilot UI demonstrated in the video above. Based on this experience, he could be exactly the kind of hire that Apple is looking for to develop an experimental augmented reality and autonomous driving system that’s rumored to be in development.
Kim’s LinkedIn profile lists that he’s worked on designs for most of the currently available Tesla cars — like the Model S, X, and 3 — as well as upcoming models vehicles like the Model Y, Tesla Semi, and Roadster V2. Before joining the automobile company he worked at Microsoft where he helped design the HoloLens, a pair of mixed reality smart glasses. This resume makes him almost a perfect candidate for the mysterious Apple, self-driving car initiative called “Project Titan.” While the likely release date for Titan isn’t until 2023 at the earliest, an upcoming pair of augmented reality glasses is expected to launch in 2020, and is thought to have some Apple Car integrations. Apple CEO Tim Cook told Bloomberg in an interview last year that the company is honing in on its self-driving car aspirations.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems, and clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars,” he said in during the interview. “There are others, and we sort of see it as the mother of all A.I. projects.”
Kim’s U.I. background bolsters the perception that Apple is working on some kind of self-driving car software as opposed to some kind of car itself. But this doesn’t preclude the development of hardware, either, in fact a company patent filing unearthed in September suggested that Apple could leverage AR to provide drivers with real-time notifications about what’s happening on the road. We could see a precursor to this system in the AR glasses that have been rumored to be in the works. Kim could provide his crosscutting design knowledge on both the automotive and wearables fronts.
Both of these projects are still veiled in secrecy but trusted Apple analyst Ming Chi-Kuo says they’re certainly happening. Kim’s hire could be a sign that the company is pushing to get the ball rolling.
An Apple car has long thought to have been the planned successor to the iPhone and the iMac, a quote-un-quote “gamechanging” consumer tech product that would set the bar in a given category for a decade or more. With this latest hire, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how Apple sees itself contributing to the future of transportation.