Apple moves ahead with self-driving car technology; Plans production by 2024

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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US-based Apple is pushing ahead with its self-driving car technology and is planning to manufacture a passenger vehicle that could have its own breakthrough battery technology in 2024 , according to reports.

Since 2014, when it first began to build its own vehicle from scratch, the iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have progressed unevenly. Apple drew back the effort to concentrate on software at one point and reassessed its priorities. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who worked at Elon Musk-owned electric car maker Tesla, returned in 2018 to oversee the project and in 2019 laid off 190 persons from the team.

Since then, Apple has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort said. Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robo-taxis to carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service.

Supply chain challenges

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 person who has seen Apple’s battery design.

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 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.

Who would assemble an Apple-branded car remains unclear, but sources have said they expect the company to rely on a manufacturing partner to build vehicles. And one of the individuals added that there is still a possibility that Apple will decide to limit the reach of its efforts to an autonomous driving device that would be integrated with a car manufactured by a traditional automaker, rather than the iPhone maker selling an Apple-branded car.

Two individuals with knowledge of Apple’s plans have reported that pandemic-related delays could push production to start in 2025 or beyond.

Exciting features

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.

Apple’s car might feature multiple lidar sensors for scanning different distances. Some sensors could be derived from Apple’s internally developed lidar units. 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 by eliminating pouches and modules that hold battery materials, according to reports.

Apple’s design means that 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, which is inherently less likely to overheat and is thus safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.

”It’s next level,” a source said about Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”