Eight years of Apple's car making

What's wrong with Apple Cars? Why is there news every day, but can't even see a PPT after tossing for so long? The well-known foreign media The Information recently answered these questions with a long and in-depth report titled "Apple's Eight Years of Efforts to Build Self-Driving Cars".

Since its exposure in 2014, Apple's car-building project code-named "Titan" has been attracting the attention of the global technology and automotive industries.

As one of the few technology giants with the highest market value, the strongest R&D capability, and the strongest revenue capability in the world, the outside world's expectations for Apple's cars are not lower than Tesla's - after all, it has created a lot of technology in the era of PCs and mobile phones. A disruptive product.

But it is quite ironic that Apple has been involved in the car project for eight years. Although there are various news, there has been no official announcement or announcement, or even a sign. And Wei Xiaoli, who started later than it, is already well-known in the global smart electric vehicle field.

In the past 8 years, has Apple been concentrating on research and development to save up big moves, and it can’t continue when it encounters difficulties, or has it given up the car-building project as rumored?

After interviewing more than 20 people who have participated in the Titan project, The Information partially restored the various attempts and efforts made by Apple's car-building project in the past 8 years, as well as the setbacks it faced, with a large amount of first-hand information and real stories. with difficulty. There are examples of Cook's attitude and real participation in automotive projects at the top, as well as the difficulties and internal biases faced by lower-level employees. It is very worth reading.

The following is a compilation of the full text of the report, with slight deletions on the basis of not changing the original meaning.

01. Autopilot is dominated by Demo, Cook watched it and said yes

Last August, several of Apple's self-driving cars drove about 40 miles in Montana. Apple used a drone to film a self-driving car from Bozeman (a city in Montana) to the ski resort town of Big Sky to show Apple CEO Tim Cook the progress of their Titan project.

Apple executives hailed the demo as a success, arguing that the vehicles showed Apple's self-driving cars could drive without relying on high-definition maps, which are required for most rival self-driving cars.

However, the good vibes after Bozeman's presentation didn't last long. Project Titan participants revealed that Apple's test vehicle, a modified Lexus SUV, had trouble navigating the streets near Apple's Silicon Valley headquarters without a map, sometimes crashing into curbs and sometimes having difficulty crossing intersections. Implement lane keeping.

It's worth noting that earlier this year, one of Apple's test cars nearly hit a jogger who was crossing the road and had the right of way.

These issues reflect the challenges facing Apple's car project, which has wobbled over the past eight years as goals and leadership have changed.

Foreign media The Information's report, based on interviews with 20 participants in the Titan project, also revealed how software problems became a key factor affecting the project. And when released to the public is also an important reason for the team's repeated swings.

The demo at Bozeman and its aftermath also highlighted a repeated mistake by Apple and most self-driving car companies: Engineers waste precious time choreographing demos on specific routes, programs that only work there but are of little use elsewhere, this kind of program is called "presentation software".

Arun Venkatadri, who worked on self-driving cars at Uber, said, “If you have enough money, you can use self-driving software to plan a fixed route to work, but it is not certain that this self-driving software can expand other functions and ensure that users can be Driving in other non-fixed areas."

02. Insufficient experience in autonomous driving, commercialization is far away

Unlike deep-pocketed companies like Alphabet's (Google parent)'s Waymo, GM's Cruise, and Amazon's Zoox, Apple wants to run its own Uber-like Robotaxi (self-driving taxi) with the goal of selling its eventual vehicle to the public.

That means Apple faces a bigger challenge than its rivals, as it has to wait until its own self-driving technology is in use before launching its own self-driving cars.

The Information estimates, based on public documents and interviews with self-driving car developers, that these and other companies have burned through more than $30 billion developing self-driving cars with little to no revenue. billion) in cash.

And self-driving technology is far from ready to operate at scale, and companies like Apple don't seem to know how long it will take to get there.

Nor do they know what technological breakthroughs they would need for vehicles to reliably predict how other cars, bicycles, and pedestrians will move around them—a key obstacle for autonomous vehicles to be able to drive like humans, let alone more than humans. All right.

What's more, Tesla and other traditional automakers already generate billions of dollars in revenue each year by developing and selling semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and automatic steering.

That raises the question of whether Apple is making a major business mistake by betting on fully autonomous driving.

03. The team was neglected by Cook and the leadership changed frequently

But Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, said the bet made sense for Apple. Because Project Titan, in development, is one of Apple's biggest efforts to break into a new category other than Apple's VR headset since the death of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2011.

Today, about 1,000 people are working on Project Titan, an initiative led by Apple head John Giannandrea and AI chief John Giannandrea.

However, the problems encountered by Project Titan are similar to those faced by the development of Apple's VR headset.

It is understood that Cook is a very different CEO from Jobs. Jobs was closely involved in product design and often inspired product design, guiding the company in a particular direction. According to multiple people who have been involved in the Titan project, Cook is more distant from the project, and he rarely visits the Titan project office near Kifer Road in California's Silicon Valley.

Some former Apple employees say this hurts the project because it lacks a leader who clearly defines and articulates what the product should be. Constant changes in strategy have exhausted employees, and Cook has also been reluctant to commit to mass-producing cars, which has frustrated some of the program's executives.

In addition, Apple's executive team's support for the project, which is internally code-named T172, is uneven.

Notably, Craig Federighi, a key Apple executive overseeing software development, was not involved in the T172 project. He has been skeptical of the project for years, according to two people who have heard him talk about it privately.

It's unclear whether Craig Federighi's criticism has affected Cook, and in other parts of Apple, Project Titan has become the object of ridicule for its frequent leadership changes, which in turn lead to changes in strategic goals and layoffs.

Several former Apple employees said some managers proactively warned employees not to participate in the program.

In addition, the financial cost of the Titan project is also very high, costing more than 1 billion US dollars (about 6.73 billion yuan) per year in recent years. But this is just a drop in the bucket for Apple, which spends more than $22 billion (about 148 billion yuan) on research and development every year.

You know, Apple also spent 430 billion US dollars (about 2892.70 billion yuan) to repurchase its own stock. However, an Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

It’s worth mentioning that Project Titan has also gone through four leadership changes over the past eight years, each with different ambitions and ambitions.

In 2014, when Apple was about to release the Apple Watch, Cook agreed to explore electric vehicles, eager to grow Apple's business and push the company into new product categories. At the time, Tesla’s electric cars had been on sale for six years, and Google’s self-driving cars had been in testing for five years.

To Cook and other executives, developing the car seemed like an obvious goal because of the company's strengths in engineering and design, two of the people said.

So four senior Apple employees formed the core of Project Titan, also known internally as the "Four Kings", namely Steve Zadesky, Benjamin Lyon, John Wright, and DJ Novotney, who spoke to Dan, then Apple's head of hardware engineering. Reporting to Riccio, Dan Riccio is also a major proponent of Project Titan on Apple's executive team.

While Riccio is in charge of the technology, he still doesn't get involved too much because the actual leader of Project Titan is Zadesky, Apple's vice president of product design for the car project.

Zadesky started his career as a mechanical engineer at Ford, and given his automotive background, he was a good fit for the project. Under Zadesky's leadership, Apple set out to build a conventional electric car that would outpace Tesla on the highway with more advanced driver-assist features.

Still, some of Zadesky's counterparts on Project Titan have pushed for more ambitious goals, including fully autonomous driving, which has created tension and infighting.

04. Early cooperation with Magna hopes to come up with new tricks

At the time, Apple teamed up with upscale automaker Magna Steyer to create an initial version of the car, designed to resemble a minivan. During this period, Project Titan was more concerned with the passenger experience than autonomous driving.

For example, the project team has envisioned how a car could detect a driver's heart attack, take them to the hospital, or provide surround sound and noise cancellation technology so that each passenger in the same car could listen to different music.

Within two years, the project expanded in multiple directions. At the time, employees thought the project was a "technical investigation," but they were told Apple hoped to sell a car as soon as 2019. At that time, Zadesky also hired auto industry experts to design doors, lighting and car interiors, and began to list auto parts suppliers.

Project Titan also drew on development ideas from some employees in Apple's consumer electronics division, but Apple's industrial design team came up with some radical ideas. For example, because the car is safe enough, it is hoped that the car can be made mostly of glass. One project member had to warn the industrial designer (don't overthink it) because other cars might hit the Apple car.

The main challenge, however, came from Apple's decision to develop its own car engineering knowledge rather than leverage decades of experience with existing car companies.

But engineers think reinventing basic automotive engineering concepts is a waste of time, and managers won't accept that without seeing the bad results firsthand.

By the end of 2015, Cook was hesitant to continue building cars and take on a new set of tasks, the Titan project was stagnant, and Apple was required to undertake a series of huge new costs and security risks. At this time, Zadesky also left the Titan project for personal reasons.

05. Spend a lot of money on autonomous driving and buy a test field

After about six months of searching, Riccio, one of the "Big Four," persuaded a retired former Apple executive, Bob Mansfield, to restart the project.

Under Mansfield's leadership, Project Titan put the car on hold to focus on fully self-driving software that would enable future Apple cars to drive without a driver.

One reason for this shift was the strong influence of Jonathan Ive, Apple's head of industrial design at the time, who was adamantly opposed to building conventional electric cars.

Jonathan Ive believes that self-driving will do to cars what multi-touch gestures (tapping, scrolling, and zooming with your fingers) did to iPhones, and that future Apple cars will have to be like iPhones in the smartphone industry.

In 2016, Mansfield ended his partnership with Magna, and Apple's industrial design team has repurposed the Apple Car into a compact sedan that looks similar to the BMW i3.

No one knew when Apple's self-driving software would be ready, and many of Project Titan's employees were reassigned to work on the self-driving test vehicle, code-named Baja, to work on batteries, motors, and drivetrains.

In 2017, Mansfield believed the company's self-driving system wasn't fully finished and was trying to set a more realistic goal of rolling out self-driving features in stages, according to multiple people involved in the plan. The team then worked with Volkswagen to develop a self-driving shuttle that would transport Apple employees from Palo Alto, California to Apple's Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino, California.

After that, the team's goals changed again, and the Titan project was asked to build self-driving buses to transport employees on fixed routes. Previously, buses on these routes were driven by humans. Eventually, the partnership between Mansfield and Volkswagen ended, the self-driving shuttle project was canceled, and Project Titan was put into the work of planning self-driving routes for Apple's test vehicles.

By then, however, the Apple car-building team had fallen into the trap of demoing software. The team worked on developing self-driving software and demonstrated self-driving software to Apple executives. However, they do not have the ability to expand or add functionality to the self-driving software later, according to two people involved in the work.

At the same time, the car-building team is also making strides in road testing. In 2017, Apple entered into a lease-purchase agreement to take over one of Chrysler's test roads near Phoenix, Arizona. According to public information, last year Apple acquired the test road through a shell company for $125 million (about 840 million yuan).

In addition to simulating and testing on public roads, the Apple team is also testing its self-driving software on the road. This three-pronged approach is similar to that of self-driving companies like Waymo. Apple built a mock street on the road, using shipping containers as buildings, hiring contractors to play pedestrians and cyclists, and the street was called "Robo City."

That year, Apple's first test car (internally codenamed Sahara) took to the streets near the company's headquarters and on test streets in Arizona. Apple's test team is a modified Lexus car, equipped with a total of 14 Velodyne lidars, and the cost of each team is as high as 1 million US dollars (about 6.73 million yuan). Apple later developed a custom lidar, according to people familiar with the matter.

However, Mansfield's ability to lead car-building projects is limited. According to insiders, Mansfield, who is a chip engineer by training, has no experience in self-driving software or cars, and can only provide high-level guidance. Additionally, Mansfield only returned to Apple on a part-time basis. He hopes to eventually find someone to take over and lead the project full-time.

06. The former Tesla executives joined the project to return to the car building itself

In 2018, Mansfield found Doug Field. Doug Field was a vice president at Apple before spending five years as an executive at Tesla, where his work included designing key components for the Tesla Model 3 and overseeing production.

Like Zadesky, Doug Field started his career at Ford as an automotive industry professional. Back at Apple, Doug Field took over at Mansfield and laid off about 200 people from Project Titan. The team's priorities also changed to designing physical cars.

Two people who worked with Doug Field during this period said Doug Field decided to sell cars directly to consumers rather than offer a Robotaxi service.

Doug Field's leadership is important given the research-led direction of Project Titan and Doug Field's experience in launching automotive products. However, Doug Field has little experience with the software.

During this period, Apple's software was still in the semi-finished stage. In 2018, a former Titan project engineer rode a test car in Sunnyvale, Calif., on a simple route with intersections and T-junctions. He noticed that the system was handing over control to a human driver almost every minute. This is a failing approach for an autonomous driving system.

At the same time, the managers of the Titan project began to focus more on the use of deep neural networks/deep learning to solve self-driving software problems. Apple's chip chief, Johny Srouji, helped the car team develop a custom chip, Tinos, named after the Greek island, to help the car team train a deep-learning model that helps its software recognize objects and traffic signs.

07. Machine learning Daniel joins automatic driving technology adjustment

Under the leadership of Doug Field, Project Titan increased its investment in deep learning. Like Waymo and most other experienced self-driving companies, Apple employees hand-coded rules-based decision-making algorithms based on road conditions detected by perception software.

This approach uses deep learning to identify patterns based on how humans drive, determining rules to automatically design the car's path. An expert in the field of autonomous driving has expressed concern: the method remains unproven, the behavior of human drivers on the road is extremely complex, and it is unlikely that all driving results will be calculated based on the rules.

In 2019, Apple hired Goodfellow, a well-known researcher in the field of deep learning, as the director of the machine learning project. He worked at Google adding deep learning algorithms to Project Titan's forecasting and path planning software.

In 2020, Apple showed the company's emphasis on deep learning by assigning Giannandrea, an AI chief who previously worked at Google, to oversee Doug Field and Project Titan. Giannandrea has been involved more than Mansfield, attending more conferences and asking questions about Project Titan's machine learning strategy.

At the same time, the presentation to the top management continued. Just before the outbreak of the new crown epidemic in 2020, Cook took a test car in Silicon Valley and successfully completed a trip. Doug Field told the team that the demo was a success.

But in fact, Apple's engineers spent a lot of time perfecting the demonstration, using sensors such as lidar in the self-driving test car to create a high-definition map of the road. A person familiar with the situation said the car couldn't deviate from its intended route and would still need a safety officer to take over if there were problems with its self-driving system.

08. Executives continue to leave the car project and move forward in setbacks

Doug Field's tenure ushered in an era of stability for Project Titan. Some former Apple employees believe Doug Field's tenure is also the perfect time to launch an Apple car. But in September 2021, he announced he was leaving Apple and returning to Ford as head of advanced technology and embedded software.

Two former Apple employees said Doug Field, like Zadesky, struggled to get support from the top at Apple on whether to move toward mass production of cars. He also understands that Apple's self-driving software is far from ready, and when it will be fully rolled out remains a major challenge.

Before Doug Field's departure, two Titan project executives left. The two are Lyon, who is in charge of sensors, and Jaime Waydo, who is in charge of operational security. At least three other Titan executives have left after Doug Field's departure, raising questions about whether Apple can regain momentum.

After Doug Field left, Kevin Lynch, head of Apple Watch, started to lead Project Titan. In May of this year, Goodfellow, the director of Apple's machine learning program, announced his resignation from Apple due to dissatisfaction with Apple's plan to return to the office.

While multiple executives have left, work on the physical design of Apple's car continues . One of the people familiar with the matter said Project Titan's employees were more inclined to the weird car design and didn't plan to hide the car's sensors. Currently, the Apple Car has four opposing seats in the cabin for passengers to talk to each other in the car. In addition, the car has a curved roof similar to that of the Volkswagen Beetle.

At the same time, designers are verifying a trunk that can be raised and lowered to make it easier for users to use. It is reported that the designers also discussed a screen that can be raised and lowered behind the seat. Apple wants a waiver from NHTSA to make new cars without steering wheels and brakes, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Apple also hired NHTSA chief adviser Jonathan Morrison last year.

At the moment, Project Titan employees are discussing how to disguise the new version of the self-driving test car. It is reported that the car is more like the final production version of Apple Cars, and the test car may hit the road as early as next year. The test car or codenamed M101, according to two people familiar with the project. The M-based designation means that Apple assigns a codename to a "product" it may sell, not just at the level of development technology.

09. The autonomous driving test continues to encounter thrilling moments

Apple also plans to move Project Titan and its test vehicles from Silicon Valley to a larger campus in San Jose, California. The park is located near Orchard Parkway. Part of the reason for the relocation is that new apartments are currently being built across from the car park where the test vehicles are stored, and the vehicles can be seen by residents living on the upper floors.

Apple is manually driving its test cars in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and in areas with more rain and snow, such as around Lake Tahoe, to collect data on road and local driving behavior.

Earlier this year, Apple test cars were scheduled to drive in Portland, Oregon, Las Vegas and Denver, a person familiar with the matter said. But it's unclear when Apple will expand its self-driving tests from Silicon Valley to other cities.

There are signs that Apple's self-driving software is still immature. According to data submitted by Apple to regulators, the test car had a lot of problems without using high-definition maps, and safety officers conducted multiple manual takeovers for safety reasons.

And in the first quarter of this year, one of Apple's test cars was traveling at around 15 mph (about 24 km/h) when it was passing an unmarked sidewalk when it narrowly collided with a jogger crossing the road.

Within a second, Apple's Autopilot software first identified the jogger as a stationary object, then reclassified it as a stationary person, and finally as a moving person. But the car didn't slow down or brake, it just adjusted the path slightly.

Safety officers hit the brakes at the last minute and the car came to a stop just a few feet from the pedestrian, according to a source. Apple later determined that the car would have hit the jogger if the safety officer didn't take action.

The person also said that Apple temporarily suspended its fleet to investigate what it said internally was the "jogger incident." The team resumed testing within days after fixing the identification issues and adding specific sidewalks to its map database.

Post a Comment