The opening photo in this article is an independently made illustration by CarScoops’ artist Josh Byrnes. It is a speculative drawing that is neither related to nor endorsed by Apple.
Apple’s self-driving car is facing serious impediments a new extensive chronology of the project by The Information has revealed. The report alleges that the car is falling victim to software issues and project management turmoil.
The Apple Car, code named Project Titan, has managed to demonstrate some impressive skills, such as performing “a DMV test autonomously to show off its capacities.” It may, however, have fallen into the “demoware” issue. The vehicles (currently modified Lexus SUVs) can perform well on predetermined routes, but struggle on roads that have not been extensively mapped and frequently hand control back over to the human backup driver.
The most noteworthy such event came when a jogger crossed the car’s path earlier this year. The vehicle “only slightly adjusted its path” and Apple concluded that it would have hit the jogger if the human driver had not jumped on the brakes. These are all significant problems for a vehicle that Apple wants to sell without a steering wheel or a brake pedal, something that would require special exemptions from NHTSA.
Although all autonomous vehicles run into development issues, the Project Titan team has suffered its own setbacks. Although it was doing well under the leadership of Doug Field, who took over the project in 2018, he was poached by Ford in 2021. His short tenure was described as the company’s “best shot at releasing a car,” but having had three leaders in the last five years means that the team lacks clear direction, according to sources who spoke to The Information.
The problem only gets bigger the higher you go in Apple’s executive structure. Sources complained that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, could have been a stable figure for the project through its management changes, but that has instead kept the Apple Car had arm’s length, rarely visiting its offices.
Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, has reportedly voiced his concerns about the project to other executives and is a noted skeptic. Project Titan is also reportedly mocked by other parts of Apple for its constant setbacks and reset objectives.
None of which is good news for the team that wants to get a concept car on the road and in front of media as early as next year. The good news is that Jony Ive, Apple’s former head of design, is advising on the project.
The designer is reportedly telling Apple to “lean into the weirdness” of the car’s design and “not try to hide its sensors.” The design will reportedly feature “four seats that face inwards” and “a curved ceiling similar to the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle.” The team is also experimenting with a trunk that rises to give owners “easier access to storage space” and seats that fold flat to allow occupants to sleep.
Whether or not Project Titan’s software engineers will ever get the car to a point where occupants can sleep is another question, especially now that federal regulators are taking a harder look at autonomous vehicle safety.