Back in 2015, the internet was awash with reports that Apple was trying to build their own electric car, dubbed "Project Titan". They even enlisted the help of BMW to use the i3 as a base model to build the car. Unfortunately, Apple reportedly had to scale back its autonomous driving ambitions from trying to build its own car to simply developing a software platform instead. That software platform seems to be making progress as the New York Times reports that Apple is creating an autonomous employee shuttle to transport employees across its sprawling campuses.
The new effort is called PAIL, short for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop which the street in Cupertino, California that Apple is located at, and a few miles from Palo Alto, California. According to the Times, "The shuttle, which has never been reported before, will likely be a commercial vehicle from an automaker and Apple will use it to test the autonomous driving technology that it develops."
Other companies in the autonomous vehicle space such as Waymo and Cruise, are also providing on demand autonomous shuttles for employees in and around the San Francisco area.
The NY Times report itself details the progression of Project Titan from the beginning. Project Titan engineers looked at a wide range of options including motorized doors that opened and closed silently. Interestingly, in order to fully commit to the autonomous driving ambiance, engineers also sought to design the car interior without gas pedals or steering wheels while adding virtual or augmented reality into interior displays. Apple even tried to literally reinvent the wheel by looking spherical wheels that would allow the car to move laterally.
Internal disputes derailed some of the progress, however. One debate raged as to whether the operating system for the car, CarOS, would be programmed using Apple's Swift language or C++. There was also a massive debate on whether the car should be semi or fully autonomous. Apple's chief designer, Jony Ive, was firmly on the side of full autonomy because he "believed that a fully driverless car would allow the company to reimagine the automobile experience."
Autonomous driving seems to be the next big technological breakthrough. Ever since the original iPhone changed the mobile landscape 10 years ago, Apple has been under pressure to produce the "next big thing". Unlike 2007 however, there are many more players in the market such as Google, Uber, Tesla, GM, Ford, BMW, Lexus who are all working on making autonomous driving into the revolution it promises to be. Time will tell if Apple will be the one to make that revolution happen.