Apple is looking at launching its next-generation self-driving car by the year 2024, equipped with its own battery technology, reported Reuters.
The tech giant began its foray into automotive technology in 2014, designing its own vehicle from scratch under Project Titan. However, the journey has been slow and bumpy, forcing Apple to scale back the efforts to focus on the software, and reassess its goals. Apple veteran Doug Field, who had also worked at Tesla, was brought back to oversee the project in 2018, with Field laying off 190 people from the team the very next year.
Since then, the project has seen enough progress for the company to now focus on a consumer-ready vehicle once again, two people familiar with the effort told Reuters, asking not to be named since Apple’s plans are not public. The company aims to build a personal vehicle for the mass market, a stark contrast to rivals like Alphabet’s Waymo, which has developed robo-taxis for passengers, intended to become a driverless ride-hailing service.
Central to Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.
Apple declined to comment on its plans or future products.
Making a vehicle represents a supply chain challenge even for Apple, a company with deep pockets that makes hundreds of millions of electronics products each year with parts from around the world, but has never made a car. It took Elon Musk’s Tesla 17 years before it finally turned a sustained profit making cars.
“If there is one company on the planet that has the resources to do that, it’s probably Apple. But at the same time, it’s not a cellphone,” said a person who worked on Project Titan.
It remains unclear who would assemble an Apple-branded car, but sources have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. And 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.
Two people with knowledge of Apple’s plans warned pandemic-related delays could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond.
Apple has decided to tap outside partners for elements of the system, including “lidar” sensors, which help self-driving cars get a three-dimensional view of the road, two people familiar with the company’s plans said.
Some sensors could be derived from Apple’s internally developed lidar units, that person said. Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models released this year both feature lidar sensors.
As for the car’s battery, Apple plans to use a unique “monocell” design that bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack, one of the people said. That design means 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.
‘“It’s next level,” the person said of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”
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