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Apple teams up with Volkswagen to develop driverless cars

Sohini Mitter
24th May 2018
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Apple's once-ambitious self-driving car project is getting leaner by the day. 

Apple’s driverless car initiative has taken a new turn. After failed talks with German luxury carmakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW, Apple has now teamed up with Volkswagen to build self-driving shuttles for its employees, according to a NYT report. However, this is a mere shadow of what Apple had imagined its autonomous car project to be.

The New York Times reported that Apple fell out with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, as both companies refused to grant it control over car design and data. As part of the current partnership, Volkswagen’s boxy T6 Transporter vans will be converted into autonomous shuttles for Apple employees in California.

Apple CEO Tim Cook. (Image: Flickr)

Earlier this month, Apple had reported that its fleet of self-driving cars registered under the California Department of Motor Vehicles, stood at 55. That makes it the second-largest such fleet after General Motors’ Cruise, which has over a 100 registered vehicles. Waymo and Tesla have 51 and 39 self-driving vehicles each.

Meanwhile, Apple’s shuttle project too has been plagued with employee departures and executional delays. Its entire car team is reportedly “consumed” with getting the project off ground.

Apple’s struggle with autonomous vehicles

While the self-driving industry has a lot of potential, Apple has struggled to make an impact. It started an audacious self-driving project — code-named Project Titan — in 2014. It was considered a breakthrough in the automotive industry when Apple announced that it was building its own driverless car.

In 2016, Apple revealed that it would stick to developing the technology as opposed to manufacturing an entire vehicle. Project Titan suffered due to internal strife, employee exodus, leadership issues, and more. Apple failed to arrive at a consensus on whether to build a vehicle from scratch or develop just the tech that goes into it.

Mid-2016, the project got a new head, and its focus shifted from hardware to software. A year later, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Bloomberg in an interview, “We’re focusing on autonomous systems. It’s a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects.”

Some time on, Apple cut down its ambitions further by wanting to build only driverless shuttles that could ferry employees across its campuses in the Silicon Valley. And now, Apple has scouted for a partner in Volkswagen who would be doing that on its behalf. 

Neither Apple nor Volkswagen has issued any official statement on this.

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