Some Comments Regarding The New York Times’s Report on Apple’s Titan Project

Daisuke Wakabayashi had a few scoops today regarding Apple’s Project Titan:

A notable symbol of that retrenchment is a self-driving shuttle service that ferries employees from one Apple building to another. The shuttle, which has never been reported before, will likely be a commercial vehicle from an automaker and Apple will use it to test the autonomous driving technology that it develops. [...]

Apple’s testing vehicles will carry employees between its various Silicon Valley offices. The new effort is called PAIL, short for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop, the address of the company’s main office in Cupertino, Calif., and a few miles down the road from Palo Alto, Calif.

This is true. Although the name is already out of date, given that it doesn’t include Apple Park, which I believe will be part of the loop.

Even though Apple had not ironed out many of the basics, like how the autonomous systems would work, a team had already started working on an operating system software called CarOS. There was fierce debate about whether it should be programmed using Swift, Apple’s own programming language, or the industry standard, C++.

This paragraph is all a bit muddled. I don’t think anyone inside Apple refers to Project Titan’s OS as “CarOS”. As for programming languages, I would guess the Project Titan team is using good old-fashioned C,1 not Swift or C++. And I’m pretty good at guessing about stuff like this.

Last year, Apple started to rein in the project. The company tapped Bob Mansfield, a longtime executive who over the years had led hardware engineering for some of Apple’s most successful products, to oversee Titan.

Mr. Mansfield shelved plans to build a car and focused the project on the underlying self-driving technology. He also laid off some hardware staff, though the exact number of employees dedicated to working on car technology was unclear.

“Shelved” is an accurate word, but I think many people have interpreted it as meaning that Apple has given up on designing its own vehicles. My understanding is that it’s more like “Let’s get the autonomous shit down first, and worry about designing vehicles to put it in after that.” Eat the steak one bite at a time rather than all at once.

Over at 512 Pixels, Stephen Hackett writes:

However, I think it’s clear that Project Titan was a distraction to the company. There’s not much in the way of hard evidence of that, but as this has wound down, Apple’s actual products have seemed to receive more attention. If this is indeed the case, I’m glad to see a return to form when it comes to updating things like Mac hardware.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this. From Wakabayashi’s NYT report:

From the beginning, the employees dedicated to Project Titan looked at a wide range of details. That included motorized doors that opened and closed silently. They also studied ways to redesign a car interior without a steering wheel or gas pedals, and they worked on adding virtual or augmented reality into interior displays.

Think about the way that ARKit is focused on identifying flat surfaces like floors and table tops. Seems like exactly the sort of thing that might have first been focused on identifying, say, roads. There’s no car yet, and there may never be, but I would bet there’s good stuff coming out of Project Titan already.

  1. Not Wild West “anything goes, bounds-checking is optional” C, but C that conforms to a subset of the language that conforms to a safety-minded subset of the language. Perhaps, something like MISRA↩︎