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Apple puts brakes on self-driving car project, report says

Apple is following the road taken by Waymo, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of Google-parent Alphabet, and downshifting on its still-unannounced self-driving car project, according to a report in the New York Times.

The company has been working on its automotive technology under the internal code name “Project Titan” since at least 2014, and once intended to build its own vehicle from start to finish, creating a true “Apple Car”.

Now it’s put the car-building side of the project on hold, perhaps indefinitely, as it instead focuses on creating and perfecting the software and hardware necessary to get a self-driving car on the streets.

Apple is now planning on working with other car-makers to get its self-driving tech into the garages and driveways of customers, according to the paper. One upcoming example of that collaboration: an autonomous shuttle service that will ferry employees back and forth between the company’s Silicon Valley offices in Palo Alto and Cupertino.

That project, which will use conventional cars with self-driving kit bolted on, is known as “Pail”, standing for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop, the street address of the company’s main campus. The name highlights the delays in the project, since Apple’s main campus is already in the process of being moved to Apple Park, an enormous ring-shaped office down the road.

It’s a similar switch to that announced by Waymo in December 2016. Then, as the company announced its new name and status, separate from Alphabet’s X labs, it also revealed it was partnering with car firms, starting with Fiat Chrysler, to provide the bodies to go with its brains.

“We are a self-driving technology company,” Waymo’s incoming chief executive John Krafcik said. “We’ve been really clear that we’re not a car company, although there’s been some confusion on that point. We’re not in the business of making better cars. We’re in the business of making better drivers.”

As recently as August that year, the company had been explicitly focused on building its own vehicle, and only releasing its creations to the public when they were capable of full automation, also known as “level-five” automation.

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That is the tier of competence at which a car can travel from A to B without ever needing human intervention, which engineers at the firm said was crucial for safety. They claimed relying on a human to take control in the rare situations they are required to is less, not more, safe, since it’s nearly impossible to force a passenger in an autonomous vehicle to remain alert enough to drive safely with a moment’s notice.

Apple did not respond to request for comment.


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