Apple’s mysterious autonomous car project has big plans for 2019, a spokesperson stated on Thursday. The company has dismissed 200 people from “Project Titan” amid an ongoing leadership restructuring, which kicked into action when Apple hired former Tesla Model 3 head Doug Field to join Bob Mansfield in overseeing the project in August 2018.
In a statement to CNBC, Apple said that “we have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple. We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever.”
Apple has been gradually discussing its mysterious project more and more. CEO Tim Cook revealed the existence of the project in June 2017, declaring autonomy “the mother of all A.I. projects.” MacAllister Higgins, co-founder of autonomous taxi company Voyage, captured perhaps the first glimpse of Titan in October 2017 when he saw a Lexus SUV fitted with 12 depth-measuring lidar sensors on its roof. The following month, Apple released its first autonomous car research. Patents point to the ability to fight zombies and to use the front lights to boost A.I.
It’s unclear what these areas of focus areas may consist of, or what Apple actually hopes to achieve with the project. Reports from inside Apple paint a muddled picture, with a September 2016 article claimed Apple pulled in over 1,000 employees in 18 months for the car, only to “reboot” the project when its purpose became muddled. The following month, reports emerged that Apple was switching away from designing a car itself from scratch, and instead working with automakers to build its technology into their vehicles. The plan, similar to how Apple works with car makers to build in CarPlay support, received a frosty reception.
As for when an Apple car may launch? Famed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed in August 2018 that an Apple car would launch somewhere around 2023 and 2025 as the “next star product.”
Kuo also stated that such a car could use augmented reality to make itself more appealing. Perhaps Apple’s augmented reality glasses, rumored for a 2020 launch, could play a big role.