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Apple Shifts Focus to Self-Driving Car Software

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【Summary】 Instead of building an entire vehicle from scratch, which GM and BMW previously warned was a huge undertaking for a tech brand with limited knowledge and experience in the competitive car manufacturing sector, the company will shift its focus to developing a driverless car operating system (OS) for automakers.

Original Michael Cheng    Nov 08, 2016 11:30 PM PT
Apple Shifts Focus to Self-Driving Car Software

When Apple announced that it axed its plans to build an autonomous car, many people were left scratching their heads. After all, the company has been working arduously on Project Titan for a couple of years now; and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has praised the secretive program on multiple occasions for its initial advancements.

It seems that not all of the time and effort developing the iCar was wasted. Instead of building an entire vehicle from scratch, which GM and BMW previously warned was a huge undertaking for a tech brand with limited knowledge and experience in the competitive car manufacturing sector, the company will shift its focus to developing a driverless car operating system (OS) for automakers.

"Apple Inc. has dozens of software engineers in Canada building a car operating system, a rare move for a company that often houses research and development projects close to its Cupertino, California headquarters, according to people familiar with the matter," explained Mark Gurman and Gerrit De Vynck from Bloomberg Technology.

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New Goals

Apple's intentions to develop an OS for smart cars did not proliferate overnight. A handful of the company's engineers working on the software in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata have been there since last year. Roughly 25 employees came from BlackBerry Ltd.'s QNX, a subsidiary of the company that develops in-car software (more on this later). A key hire from the business earlier this year was Dan Dodge, who oversaw operations as QNX's chief executive officer. Both offices (QNX and Apple's headquarters in Ottawa) are a five-minute walk from each other.

Apple plans to launch the highly anticipated smart car OS in 2020. For now, most of the core features are still being developed by the group. Industry experts foresee deep integration between the software and other Apple products and services, including Siri (the brand's digital assistant) and the Apple Watch.

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In Need of Talent

BlackBerry is not too happy about Apple's interest in QNX talent. "We're in a global world of big technology companies fighting for talent," said Marty Beard, BlackBerry's chief operating officer, when asked about Apple hiring QNX talent. "It's not surprising." 

Not to be outdone, BlackBerry has recently strengthened its collaboration with Ford through a strategic deal that would allow the automaker to use QNX's software on its future fleet of autonomous vehicles. This is a bold move for the company, as it recently launched its last self-made mobile device. Ford is in the process of building a fully autonomous car by 2021, which it intends to market for commercial ridesharing programs.

With the nascent self-driving car industry undergoing intense development from all angles (from automakers and smart infrastructure-focused businesses to battery manufacturers and lawmakers), BlackBerry could be in a position to dominate the in-car software space in the next decade. It already has a huge head start, compared to Apple, with over 60 million cars using the QNX OS. The brand is widely known for replacing Ford's clunky MyFord Touch system with the Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment platform. In addition to Ford, other carmakers, such as Audi, Toyota and BMW, are also using QNX's OS.


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