Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

Well-known foreign media The Information recently answered these questions with a long and in-depth report titled “Apple’s Eight Years of Efforts to Build Self-Driving Cars”.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Screenshot of The Information report

Since it was exposed in 2014, Apple’s car-building project code-named “Titan” has been attracting the attention of the global technology and automotive industries.

As one of the few technology giants with the highest market value, the strongest R&D capabilities, and the strongest revenue capabilities in the world, the outside world’s expectations for Apple’s cars are not lower than Tesla’s – after all, it has created a lot of technology in the era of PCs and mobile phones. A disruptive product…

But it is quite ironic that Apple has been involved in the car project for eight years. Although there are various news, there has been no official announcement or announcement, or even a sign. And Wei Xiaoli, who started later than it, is already well-known in the global smart electric vehicle field.

In the past 8 years, has Apple been concentrating on research and development to save big moves, and it can’t do it when it encounters difficulties, or has it abandoned the car-building project as rumored?

After interviewing more than 20 people who have participated in the Titan project, The Information partially restored the various attempts and efforts made by Apple’s car-building project in the past 8 years, as well as the setbacks it faced, with a large amount of first-hand information and real stories. with difficulty. There are examples of Cook’s attitude and real participation in automotive projects at the top, as well as the difficulties and internal biases faced by lower-level employees. It is very worth reading.

The following is a compilation of the full text of the report, with slight deletions on the basis of not changing the original meaning.

  1. Autopilot is mainly based on Demo. Cook read it and said yes
    In August last year, several of Apple’s self-driving cars drove about 40 miles (64.4 kilometers) in Montana. Apple used a drone to film a self-driving car from Bozeman (a city in Montana) to the ski resort town of Big Sky to show Apple CEO Tim Cook the progress of their project Titan.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Apple’s self-driving test car

Apple executives hailed the demo as a success, arguing that the vehicles showed Apple’s self-driving cars could drive without relying on high-definition maps, which are required for most rival self-driving cars.

However, the good vibes after Bozeman’s presentation didn’t last long. Project Titan participants revealed that Apple’s test vehicle, a modified Lexus SUV, had difficulty navigating the streets near Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters without a map, sometimes crashing into curbs and sometimes having difficulty crossing intersections. Implement lane keeping.

It’s worth noting that earlier this year, one of Apple’s test cars nearly hit a jogger who was crossing the road and had the right of way.

These issues reflect the challenges facing Apple’s car project, which has wobbled over the past eight years as goals and leadership have changed.

Foreign media The Information’s report, based on interviews with 20 participants in the Titan project, also revealed how software problems became a key factor affecting the project. And when to release to the public is also an important reason for the team’s repeated swings.

The demo at Bozeman and its aftermath also highlighted a repeated mistake by Apple and most self-driving car companies: Engineers waste precious time choreographing demos on specific routes, programs that only work there but are of little use elsewhere , this kind of program is called “presentation software”.

Arun Venkatadri, who worked on self-driving cars at Uber, said, “If you have enough money, you can use self-driving software to plan a fixed route to work, but it’s not certain that this self-driving software can expand other functions to ensure that users can Driving in other non-fixed areas.”

  1. Insufficient experience in autonomous driving, commercialization is far away
    Unlike deep-pocketed companies like Alphabet’s (Google parent)’s Waymo, GM’s Cruise and Amazon’s Zoox, Apple wants to run its own Uber-like Robotaxi (self-driving taxi) with the goal of selling its eventual vehicle to the public .

That means Apple faces a bigger challenge than its rivals, as it has to wait until its own self-driving technology is in use before launching its own self-driving cars.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ One of the Apple car concept images circulating on the Internet

The Information estimates, based on public documents and interviews with self-driving car developers, that these and other companies have burned through more than $30 billion developing self-driving cars with little to no revenue. billion) in cash.

And self-driving technology is far from ready to operate at scale, and companies like Apple don’t seem to know how long it will take to get there.

Nor do they know what technological breakthroughs they would need for vehicles to reliably predict how other cars, bicycles, and pedestrians will move around them—a key obstacle for autonomous vehicles to be able to drive like humans, let alone more than humans. All right.

What’s more, Tesla and other traditional automakers already generate billions of dollars in revenue each year by developing and selling semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and automatic steering.

That raises the question of whether Apple is making a major business mistake by betting on fully autonomous driving.

  1. The team was neglected by Cook and the leadership changed frequently
    But Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said the bet made sense for Apple. Because, aside from Apple’s VR headset, Project Titan is one of Apple’s biggest efforts to break into a new category since the death of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2011.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering

Today, about 1,000 people are working on Project Titan, an initiative led by Apple head John Giannandrea and AI chief John Giannandrea.

However, the problems encountered by Project Titan are similar to those faced by the development of Apple’s VR headset.

It is understood that Cook is a very different CEO from Jobs. Jobs was closely involved in product design and often inspired product design, guiding the company in a particular direction. According to multiple people who have worked on the Titan project, Cook is more distant from the project, and he rarely visits the Titan project office near Kifer Road in California’s Silicon Valley.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Titan Project Office (Source: Google Street View)

Some former Apple employees say this hurts the project because it lacks a leader who clearly defines and articulates what the product should be. Constant changes in strategy have exhausted employees, and Cook has also been reluctant to commit to mass-producing cars, which has frustrated some of the program’s executives.

In addition, Apple’s executive team’s support for the project, which is internally code-named T172, is uneven.

Notably, Craig Federighi, a key Apple executive overseeing software development, was not involved in the T172 project. He has been skeptical of the project for years, according to two people who have heard him talk about it privately.

It’s unclear whether Craig Federighi’s criticism has affected Cook, and in other parts of Apple, Project Titan has become the object of ridicule because of its frequent leadership changes, which in turn lead to changes in strategic goals and layoffs.

Several former Apple employees said some managers proactively warned employees not to participate in the program.

In addition, the financial cost of the Titan project is also high, costing more than 1 billion US dollars (about 6.73 billion yuan) per year in recent years. But this is a drop in the bucket for Apple, which spends more than $22 billion (about 148 billion yuan) on research and development every year.

You know, Apple also spent 430 billion US dollars (about 2892.70 billion yuan) to repurchase its own stock. However, an Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

It’s worth mentioning that Project Titan has also gone through four leadership changes over the past eight years, each with different ambitions and ambitions.

In 2014, when Apple was about to release the Apple Watch, Cook agreed to explore electric vehicles, eager to grow Apple’s business and push the company into new product categories. At the time, Tesla’s electric cars had been on sale for six years, and Google’s self-driving cars had been in testing for five years.

To Cook and other executives, developing the car seemed like an obvious goal because of the company’s strengths in engineering and design, two of the people said.

So four senior Apple employees formed the core of Project Titan, also known internally as the “Four Kings”, namely Steve Zadesky, Benjamin Lyon, John Wright and DJ Novotney, who told Dan, then Apple’s head of hardware engineering, to Reporting to Riccio, Dan Riccio is also a major proponent of Project Titan on Apple’s executive team.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive (left) and senior vice president of hardware engineering Dan Riccio

While Riccio is in charge of the technology, he still doesn’t get involved too much, because the actual leader of Project Titan is Zadesky, Apple’s vice president of product design for the car project.

Zadesky started his career as a mechanical engineer at Ford, and given his automotive background, he was a good fit for the project. Under Zadesky’s leadership, Apple set out to build a conventional electric car that would outpace Tesla on the highway with more advanced driver-assist features.

Still, some of Zadesky’s counterparts on Project Titan have pushed for more ambitious goals, including fully autonomous driving, which has created tension and infighting.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Early Titan project leaders Steve Zadesky (left) and Bob Mansfield

  1. Early cooperation with Magna, hoping to come up with new tricks
    At the time, Apple teamed up with upscale automaker Magna Steyer to create an initial version of the car, designed to resemble a minivan. During this period, Project Titan was more concerned with the passenger experience than autonomous driving.

For example, the project team has envisioned how a car could detect a driver’s heart attack, take them to the hospital, or provide surround sound and noise cancellation technology so that each passenger in the same car could listen to different music.

Within two years, the project expanded in multiple directions. At the time, employees thought the project was a “technical investigation,” but they were told Apple hoped to sell a car as soon as 2019. At that time, Zadesky also hired auto industry experts to design doors, lighting and car interiors, and began to list auto parts suppliers.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Foreign media renderings based on Apple’s car patent design

Project Titan also drew on development ideas from some employees in Apple’s consumer electronics division, but Apple’s industrial design team came up with some radical ideas. For example, because the car is safe enough, it is hoped that the car can be made mostly of glass. One project member had to warn the industrial designer (don’t overthink it) because other cars might hit the Apple car.

The main challenge, however, came from Apple’s decision to develop its own car engineering knowledge rather than leverage decades of experience with existing car companies.

But engineers think reinventing basic automotive engineering concepts is a waste of time, and managers won’t accept that without seeing the bad results firsthand.

By the end of 2015, Cook was hesitant to continue building cars and take on a new set of tasks, the Titan project was stalled, and Apple was required to take on a huge new set of costs and security risks. At this time, Zadesky also left the Titan project for personal reasons.

  1. Spend a lot of money on autonomous driving and also buy a test field
    After about six months of searching, Riccio, one of the “Big Four,” persuaded a retired former Apple executive, Bob Mansfield, to restart the project.

Under Mansfield’s leadership, Project Titan paused development of the car to focus on fully self-driving software that would enable future Apple cars to drive without a driver.

One reason for this shift was the strong influence of Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of industrial design at the time, who was adamantly opposed to building conventional electric cars.

Jonathan Ive believes that self-driving will do to cars what multi-touch gestures (tapping, scrolling and zooming with your fingers) did to iPhones, and that future Apple cars will have to be like iPhones in the smartphone industry .

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive (left) and senior vice president of hardware engineering Dan Riccio

In 2016, after Mansfield ended its partnership with Magna, Apple’s industrial design team has repurposed the Apple Car into a compact sedan that looks similar to the BMW i3.

Eight years of Apple’s car making: change, chaos and difficult birth

▲ BMW i3

No one knew when Apple’s self-driving software would be ready, and many of Project Titan’s employees were reassigned to work on the self-driving test vehicle, code-named Baja, to work on batteries, motors and drivetrains.

In 2017, Mansfield believed the company’s self-driving system wasn’t fully finished, and was trying to set a more realistic goal of rolling out self-driving features in stages, according to multiple people involved in the plan. The team then worked with Volkswagen to develop a self-driving shuttle that could transport Apple employees from Palo Alto, California to Apple’s Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino, California.

Then the team goals

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