Apple stays quiet about it, but the company is clearly developing a self-driving car. And this week the world was given a glimpse inside this project, showing that it's much larger than many had previously thought. The FBI arrested a former employee on Apple's autonomous car design team for allegedly downloading proprietary information and attempting take it to a rival car company in China. The resulting documentation reveals the number of employees on the project. There's no room for doubt about what Xiaolang Zhang, the former Apple employee, was working on.
Self-driving trucks aren't just for hauling beer anymore. Now they can also haul garbage. Not to be outdone by the likes of Uber and Waymo, Volvo has now outlined one of its own autonomous vehicle projects in Sweden: a self-driving garbage truck. Like Uber Freight, the project is another effort to extend self-driving technology beyond just shuttling people around in self-driving taxis. After all, someone has to line up the garbage cans for the vehicle -- because you sure don't when you're rushing your trash out the door on your way to work.
Apple's secretive self-driving car division, codenamed Project Titan, has undergone a major restructuring process under new leadership. Unfortunately, that entails dismissing over 200 employees this week, according to CNBC. An Apple spokesperson has confirmed the layoffs to the publication and also revealed that some employees previously under Titan have been transferred to other divisions. "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 in a November letter to US regulators publicly acknowledged work on autonomous vehicles for the first time, after years of reports surrounding Project Titan. Web cartoonist Matthew Inman loves his Tesla. But like many proud EV owners and proponents, does he even realize his "Magical Space Car" runs on fossil fuels? Steve Kenner, Apple's director of product integrity, sent a five page letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, urging regulators not to impose too many restrictions on self-driving as the iPhone maker begins testing the technology. "The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation," Kenner wrote.
Apple has laid off "dozens of employees" in Project Titan, although the headcount remains "essentially the same," according to the reports. Some employees were reassigned to other divisions, but some, especially automotive industry veterans, have left Apple. The cuts are a reflection of the project's shifting focus. Longtime Apple executive Bob Mansfield returned to the company to take over Project Titan in July, and he has focused the project on building software for a self-driving car, instead of a full electric vehicle. But that is a curious choice, considering that Apple's core strengths lie in manufacturing processes and battery technology, instead of the data-driven artificial intelligence technologies that are required for self-driving cars.