Apple’s self-driving car project named Project Titan has been flying under the radar for some time now. The company certainly does not send out frequent updates on its efforts. Some have even speculated that the company has for all intents and purposes given up on the endeavor. However, multiple outlets, including CNBC, are reporting that Apple has made some key recent hires in this realm.
First, Apple has hired former Waymo self-driving engineer Jaime Waydo, who had been with her former company for 5 years. Prior to that, she had worked for NASA’s Jet Propolsion Laboratory, where she was in charge of systems engineering. Also, Apple recently hired former Google executive John Giannandrea, who works on AI.
In late May, CleanTechnica reported Apple was teaming up with Volkswagen to create self-driving shuttles to provide transportation for Apple employees on one of its campuses. Additionally, they filed for permits to test AVs in California in early 2017. Although earlier, more ambitious Project Titan plans have seemingly been scaled back, it is good to see the company is still working on the technology.
The general consensus is that Project Titan is far behind companies like Waymo, Tesla, and GM. However, I do not think that is the only way to look at the situation. Clearly, we do not yet have perfected software for self-driving cars. It is close and yet still seems so far away. But there is more to the story. Self-driving cars have become possible because of a variety of incredible advances in tiny super computers, reliable/inexpensive sensors, and an ever improving wireless network.
It is because all these technologies have become so advanced that companies can start to work on the last piece of the puzzle, the software. These hardware technologies will continue to improve at a rapid pace and they will continue to have significant cost declines. Their improvements could make the software challenge less daunting.
There is still an opportunity for Apple to enter the game. With Apple’s incredible wealth and brand value, the company can always acquire, merge, or partner with other companies. It could be crucial in helping a partner to reach scale at a faster pace. It is great that Apple is at least making some continual efforts to keep out to date on the technology.
There are three main reasons why my fingers are crossed, hoping that Project Titan succeeds. First, Apple’s brand is extremely valuable and it is a trusted company. So many more people would be willing to risk a trial ride (earlier on) in an autonomous vehicles if they are controlled by Apple software. Additionally, Apple has is absolutely brilliant at marketing. Early adoption would definitely be accelerated with its name being involved in the mix.
Second, self-driving taxis will be more about the entire experience than just getting from point A to point B. Apple has a proven track record of understanding what its customers want before they want it. Some people are not going to want to give up owning a car. The trick is to make the pros of giving up car ownership vastly outweigh the cons.
Third, Apple is by far the most valuable company in the world. Its market capitalization is $913 billion, which is almost three times as much the ExxonMobil Corporation. At $345 billion, Exxon is the most valuable of the major oil companies.
How wonderful it would be if oil industry lobbyists have to compete with Apple’s lobbyists. By the way, the top companies by market capitalization are as follows: Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Facebook, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Chase, and then finally Exxon. The first five companies all have clear plans to reach 100% renewable energy and Berkshire Hathaway has significant investments in renewable energy. These companies see the writing on the wall that the transition to renewable energy is inevitable, and they have the ability to accelerate that transition based upon pure economic self-interest.
In the future, oil and car industries will not have the economic clout to hold back autonomous EVs and renewable energy that will power them. Each year, the lobbying power of the oil and car industries will be continually eroded by its new competitors. Let’s hope one of those competitors is Apple and it can make the turning point occur sooner rather than later.