For decades, the dream of autonomous cars has been the stuff of fantasy. Even now, twenty years into the 21st century, autonomous cars are far from being ready for mass production. Still, many companies are dabbling with the concept, from Tesla to Google subsidiary Waymo and many others.
Now, Apple is moving forward with the self-driving tech and vehicle it has been developing for many years now, after some previous setbacks.
According to an exclusive report by Reuters, Apple is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told the news agency. However, the report also said that the pandemic “could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond.”
This technology falls under the Project Titan umbrella, which consolidates Apple’s resources and efforts into producing its own electric vehicles (EVs), battery technology and autonomous cars. The Project, and Apple’s overall ambitions to produce their own vehicle, started in 2014, eventually facing many obstacles in the years to come.
“In 2016, the project was scaled down significantly, with development of a full car being scrapped and Apple’s team refocusing on providing software that could be licensed out to car manufacturers, according to reports at the time,” The Verge said. “Around 200 people were laid off from Apple’s car team just last year.”
Since then, Apple has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort told Reuters.
“Central to Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could ‘radically’ reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range,” the exclusive report revealed, according to the account of a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.
While Apple would be designing the new self-driving vehicle, it is still unclear who will be producing the units for them. Sources told Reuters that they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles, and that there is still a chance Apple will decide to reduce the scope of its efforts to an autonomous driving system that would be integrated with a car made by a traditional automaker, rather than the iPhone maker selling an Apple-branded car, one of the people added.
For now, it seems Apple will be accepting some external input. The tech firm has supposedly decided to tap outside partners for elements of the system, including lidar sensors. Today, most autonomous vehicles in development rely on lidar sensors to translate the surrounding 3D space into digital information understood by the vehicle’s navigation software.
On the other hand it’s worthy of note that Apple has already dabbled in lidar sensors, which are included in the Pro models of the company’s iPhone 12 and iPad that released this year. Reuters had previously reported that Apple had held talks with potential lidar suppliers, but that the Big Tech firm was also examining building its own sensor.
As for the car’s battery, Apple allegedly “plans to use a unique ‘monocell’ design that bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack, meaning that more active material can be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range. Apple is also examining a chemistry for the battery called LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, the person said, which is inherently less likely to overheat and is thus safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.”
On a side note, The Verge reminds that “there are no true self-driving vehicles available today, though some cars, like those from Tesla, offer a degree of advanced driver assistance driving in certain situations.”
Uber, another company that was pouring serious cash into developing their own autonomous vehicles, gave up this month on the venture in pursuit of a more immediate path to profitability.