Apple appeared to be pulling back from the autonomous car business when itdismissed some 200 employeesfrom its Project Titan initiative in January 2019. But it would appear that it’s shifting gears in a big way with news on Tuesday that it has acquired startup Drive.ai “in what appears to be part of a renewed effort by the iPhone and Mac maker to branch out into self-driving cars,” per theSan Francisco Chronicle.
According to the Chronicle, Drive.ai hadrecently told state officialsit was folding and expected to lay off 90 workers by Friday. But Apple has poached “dozens of hardware and software engineers” from the company and has now confirmed it purchased it outright, according to the paper. Prior reporting in the Information has suggested the company had been looking for potential buyerssince February 2019and that the purchaseis an “acqui-hire,”meaning that Apple was primarily interested in snapping up Drive.ai’s talent before a competitor had the opportunity.
The Chronicle noted that Drive.ai touted itself as a company developing kits to convert normal cars into autonomous ones, “though it’s not clear how many of its partnerships turned into reality.” Projects it had engaged in include a shuttle service in Arlington, Texas, a since-concluded test in Frisco, and a partnership with Lyft in 2017 that currently has an “unclear” status,” the paper wrote. That Frisco test raised some eyebrows when Drive.ai decided toremove human safety driversfrom some of its vehicles, just months after an Uber prototype vehiclestruck and killed49-year-old woman Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona.
Axios reportedthat Drive.ai was valued at some $200 million two years ago, but Apple likely paid less than the $77 million it had raised in venture capital, making the venture a net loss to investors. Apple has tested self-driving Lexus vehicles in California but hasn’t publicly clarified whether it is focused on building its own Apple-branded car or software development.According to MacRumors, “reliable Apple analyst” Ming-Chi Kuo believes that if the company is working on such a vehicle, it wouldn’t be ready until 2023 or 2025—far behind some of the wildly optimistic projections from competitors like Tesla, whose CEO Elon Muskrecently claimedthat it will achieve trueLevel 5autonomy by next year.