On Friday, the New York Times reported that Apple has laid off dozens of employees on its self-driving car project, and closed down parts of the project entirely. The moves were described internally as a “reboot” of the project. The Times cited three unnamed sources familiar with the changes.
The streamlining seems to be in line with recent reports of a shift in the project’s emphasis, with more effort now being devoted to developing autonomous navigation software than to building a vehicle.
Apple has not publicly acknowledged the existence of the initiative, but it has long been—in the words of Tesla CEO Elon Musk—an “open secret,” supposedly known internally as Project Titan. Over the past two years, Apple has hired hundreds of automotive design and software experts.
But the project has experienced various setbacks, and observers have been skeptical of Apple’s ability to successfully develop autonomous driving technology while entering what would be an entirely new market for the company. Apple’s competitors in the race to autonomous driving have an array of obvious advantages: Google with its firmer footing in artificial intelligence, Tesla with its fleet of real-world testers and expertise in auto manufacturing, and Uber with its locked-and-loaded market infrastructure.
And while Apple CEO Tim Cook has dropped occasional hints about the project, he has also hedged expectations. In a February 2016 interview with Fortune, Cook emphasized that not all Apple projects come to fruition: “We edit very much. We talk about a lot of things and do fewer. We debate many things and do a lot fewer.”
Apple has not commented on the rumored edits to Project Titan.