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Apple Cuts 200 Employees From its Secret Self-Driving Car Project

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【Summary】Tech giant Apple has dismissed about 200 employees from its secretive autonomous car project known as “Project Titan”.

Eric Walz    Jan 24, 2019 11:45 AM PT
Apple Cuts 200 Employees From its Secret Self-Driving Car Project
A artist rendering of an Apple concept car

Tech giant Apple has dismissed about 200 employees from its secretavice autonomous car project known as "Project Titan". The layoffs were reported by CNBC, citing people familiar with the project.

An Apple spokesperson acknowledged the layoffs but said the company still sees an opportunity in the self-driving car space. The spokesperson said that the move is more of a restructuring plan rather than simply letting employees go. Apple said the many of the employees with be reassigned to other projects at Apple, including machine learning initiatives.

"We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple." the company wrote in a statement to CNBC.

"We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever."

Unlike many other companies in Silicon Valley, Apple has kept details of its self-driving car development under tight control and little is known about the project. Other than occasional sighting of Apple's unmarked Lexus RX450h vehicles on Silicon Valley streets outfitted with roof-mounted cameras, radar, and lidar, Apple has kept its autonomous driving and automotive work under tight wrap.

As of last summer, it looked like Apple's Project Titan was still pushing forward. Apple even poached a high-profile Tesla exec to join Titan.

In August 2018, Doug Field the senior vice president of engineering for the Tesla Model 3, stepped down to rejoin Apple, presumably to work on Project Titan alongside Apple executive Bob Mansfield who led the company autonomous driving efforts.

At the time, Tesla denied he was joining Apple and said in a statement that Field was "just taking some time off to recharge and spend time with his family. He has not left Tesla." However, two months later, Tesla confirmed that Field had in fact departed the electric automaker for Apple.

Field and Mansfield previously worked together on engineering Apple's line of Mac computers, including the Macbook Air and iPad.

Since 2015, Apple was rumored to be working on developing an entire vehicle. Apple hired thousands of engineers and opened up new offices and machine shops to jumpstart the project.

However, under the direction of Mansfield, Apple began shifted away from building a complete car to focus instead on the underlying self-driving technology that can be added to an existing vehicle platform.

It's possible that Apple may be leaving self-driving cars to other industry leaders like Waymo or General Motors to focus on technologies including healthcare, according to CEO Tim Cook.

In an interview with CNBC, Cook says Apple will "announce new services" in 2019. Cook has recently been touting Apple's initiatives in health as the key to its future.

"I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, ‘What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' it will be about health," Cook told CNBC's Jim Cramer earlier this month.

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