Apple’s secretive efforts to develop a self-driving car — its so-called ‘Project Titan’ — have taken a hard turn in 2019 after it emerged that the iPhone-maker has reassigned 200 employees previously involved in its development.
That’s according to CNBC which, citing sources, reported that a portion of the 200 staff were moved to other projects inside Apple, while others — and it isn’t clear how many — were let go altogether. The news was enough to prompt Apple to respond with a confirmation that included a rare mention of its automotive ambitions.
“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,” a spokesperson said.
TechCrunch reached out to Apple for additional comment but, at the time of writing, the company had not responded.
CNBC reported that the layoffs had been expected and were seen as an imminent restructuring under Project Titan’s new leadership, long-time Apple veteran Bobs Mansfield and Doug Field, Apple’s former VP of Mac hardware engineering who rejoined from the company in October after a spell with Tesla.
Still, not a lot is known about the project. There have been sneak peaks — including a look at the unorthodox tech stack for the vehicle roof, which included a suite of sensors and autonomous hardware — while the company was said to have doubled its fleet as of last January. CEO Tim Cook previously called Apple’s car push “the mother of all AI projects,” indicating that, despite the mystery, it is certainly taking up a huge amount of focus for the company.
This isn’t the first time Apple has restructured the project. Back in 2016, it was said to have abandoned the bold target of developing its own vehicle instead opting to develop vehicle smarts. Exactly what the strategy is now following Field’s appointment and this restructuring is not unclear.