Apple's self-driving shuttle project to use Volkswagen vans after fruitless negotiations w...

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in General Discussion edited May 24
After rebuffed attempts to partner with major carmakers over an ambitious electric vehicle project, Apple has reportedly inked a deal with Volkswagen to convert a number of T6 Transporter vans into self-driving shuttles for company employees.




Citing sources familiar with the matter, The New York Times reports the remnants of Apple's self-driving car team are working with Volkswagen on a previously rumored autonomous shuttle service.

Apple will reportedly use Volkswagen's T6 Transporter for its PAIL, or Palo Alto to Infinite Loop, pilot program, which is expected to shuttle Apple employees from one Silicon Valley office to another. The company is working with Volkswagen subsidiary Italdesign to outfit the T6 vans with specialized dashboards and seats, while further modifications include on-board computers, sensors and an electric battery.

First revealed in a report last August, Apple's PAIL project is supposedly behind schedule and accounts for much of the car team's time. When it ultimately rolls out, two operators will man each self-driving shuttle -- a backup driver and a co-pilot.

The partnership with Volkswagen, which was struck late last year, marks an end to sporadic talks Apple held with luxury carmakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz over the past few years in hopes of co-developing an all-electric self-driving vehicle. Those negotiations, first reported in 2015, involved Apple's now scrapped Project Titan automotive initiative.

Previous reports suggested BMW was reluctant to sign on with Apple as doing so would mean sharing manufacturing expertise. In 2016, the Titan team was said to have hit another roadblock when talks with both BMW and Daimler fell apart due to disagreements over ownership of user data.

According to today's report, Apple was in talks with BMW "for years." The tech giant also held partnership negotiations with Mercedes-Benz over a contract project dubbed "Bruce" for over a year, but dialogue ceased after the two companies were unable to reach an agreement on which entity would control the experience and data. Apple also discussed partnerships with Nissan, China's BYD Auto, McLaren and Magna Steyr.

Apple started work on its self-driving car initiative in 2014. AppleInsider was first to detail key aspects of the initiative being carried out in secret offices in and around Cupertino.

At its height, Apple's car team counted well over 1,000 employees among its ranks, with specialists in automotive hardware to software focusing on a rethinking of the automobile. Company efforts went far beyond self-driving systems, with the team investigating designs that included motorized doors and a globe-shaped steering wheel.

Apple initially had plans to build its own car from the ground up, going so far as to begin preliminary discussions to build an automotive plant in the U.S., NYT sources said. As the company realized the undertaking was more onerous than original thought, its strategy shifted to establishing manufacturing partnerships with existing carmakers. Those plans involved building an Apple-designed vehicle, and later transitioned to requests for integral parts like chassis and wheels.

Apple later requested potential partners to outfit their own vehicles with bespoke sensors and software, the report said.

AppleInsider sources said Apple's ambitious undertaking began to unravel as disagreements between team leaders like former project lead Steve Zadesky and top executives took root. Longtime executive Bob Mansfield assumed control of "Titan" last year and whittled the team down to necessary personnel as the project refocused on software and supporting solutions.

With a renewed emphasis on specialists in autonomous systems, not car production, the shuttle is now the car team's main focus.

Most recently, Apple grew its fleet of California-based self-driving test vehicles to 55 cars and 83 authorized pilots. Seen in and around the Bay Area, Apple's test cars are outfitted with advanced sensor arrays, GPS equipment and cameras. Today's report says the Lexus test vehicles were outfitted by Virginia-based firm Torc Robotics as part of a project code-name Baja.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect additional information appended to the original NYT story.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,649member
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.

    VW is an excellent choice: it has a mass market (volume), but also owns the upscale Audi and Porsche brands (cache). Yes, VW was tarnished by the diesel (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions scandal -- something that might seem to be at odds with Apple's vaunted "green" credentials -- but the company has more than amply penanced for it, with fines and restitutions in the US alone amounting to over $25B. Others such as BMW and M-B are just now being found out as having been involved with similar shenanigans.
    edited May 23 bshankleavingthebigg
  • Reply 2 of 36
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,202member
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.

    VW is an excellent choice: it has a mass market (volume), but also owns the upscale Audi and Porsche brands (cache). Yes, VW was tarnished by the diesel (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions scandal -- something that might seem to be at odds with Apple's vaunted "green" credentials -- but the company has more than amply penanced for it, with fines and restitutions in the US alone amounting to over $25B. Others such as BMW and M-B are just now being found out as having been involved with similar shenanigans.
    1) Just wait for the Luddites to show up and say how dangerous automation in automobiles is for society. Someone might even claim that driving is more art than skill. :eyeroll:

    2) Regarding the diesel emissions scandal, that shouldn't be a factor as I assume that all vehicles will be fully electric by the time this goes live.
    nunzybshankbb-15olsols
  • Reply 3 of 36
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 258member
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.
    This is how self driving cars will go mainstream. First we had self parking and lane warning systems. Then driver assist cruise controls, like Tesla has. Next will be autonomous vehicles on closed limited courses like this article suggests. At first those will be daylight only. Then their use will grow. Shuttles from the airport to hotels for example. Then long haul big rigs will start going autonomous. Finally when people are more comfortable with the technology, and there is enough statistical data to show that they are in fact much better at driving than most people, fully autonomous vehicles will start appearing, along with insurance discounts. Yes I still expect to see self driving cars, but not all at once, a creeping advance of automation will slowly, one little step at a time take over the job. In 10 to 20 years people will look askance at anyone that still drives themselves.
    radarthekatbestkeptsecretpscooter63
  • Reply 4 of 36
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 3,173member
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.

    VW is an excellent choice: it has a mass market (volume), but also owns the upscale Audi and Porsche brands (cache). Yes, VW was tarnished by the diesel (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions scandal -- something that might seem to be at odds with Apple's vaunted "green" credentials -- but the company has more than amply penanced for it, with fines and restitutions in the US alone amounting to over $25B. Others such as BMW and M-B are just now being found out as having been involved with similar shenanigans.
    They’re allegedly using VW vans for employee shuttles. No where in the article did it suggest it would expand to other models/brands. The story is quite bleak alleging this project is behind schedule and the project lacked any sort of plan beyond this. I can’t see Apple doing anything consumer focused if they don’t have ultimate control of the design and data and I can’t see any existing automaker giving Apple that control. I still think if this project goes beyond employee shuttles to consumer vehicles or a ride sharing service Apple will have to design its own cars and contract out the manufacturing.
    JWSC
  • Reply 5 of 36
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,902member
    VW needs positive public relations, which Apple could give them. They have nothing (more) to lose. All the other car manufacturers are scared to death about Apple horning in on their profits so it doesn’t surprise me when they come up with lame excuses for not working with Apple. 
    bb-15bshanklolliver
  • Reply 6 of 36
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,528moderator
    DAalseth said:
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.
    This is how self driving cars will go mainstream. First we had self parking and lane warning systems. Then driver assist cruise controls, like Tesla has. Next will be autonomous vehicles on closed limited courses like this article suggests. At first those will be daylight only. Then their use will grow. Shuttles from the airport to hotels for example. Then long haul big rigs will start going autonomous. Finally when people are more comfortable with the technology, and there is enough statistical data to show that they are in fact much better at driving than most people, fully autonomous vehicles will start appearing, along with insurance discounts. Yes I still expect to see self driving cars, but not all at once, a creeping advance of automation will slowly, one little step at a time take over the job. In 10 to 20 years people will look askance at anyone that still drives themselves.
    THIS!  Well stated.  And isn’t it just like Apple to pull something out of their labs that they can put into real-world use.  This will yield a real benefit to Apple and its employees while providing, as you detailed, a known and likely highly mapped (by Apple already)  route that will take some of the variability out of the equation.  These vans driving these routes will continue to collect edge-case data as road obstacles are encountered, different weather conditions are experienced and dawn, dusk and nighttime conditions are covered.  All while providing actual utility to a real-world use case.
    edited May 23 bshankbestkeptsecretlolliverpscooter63
  • Reply 7 of 36
    Chris GibbsChris Gibbs Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    There are no VW T6's in the USA, and VW have no plans to import them we've been told numerous times by VW.  So this NY Times piece makes little sense. 
  • Reply 8 of 36
    chasmchasm Posts: 770member
    It should be noted that this article mixes facts (VW deal) within unverified theories (the entire section about Apple’ self-driving plans and “Project Titan”) . Simply adding a phrase like “At one time, Apple was rumoured to be developing their own self-driving car” is both factual and doesn’t indulge in unconfirmed theories stated as fact.

    The real story about this has yet to come out, but it will probably provide a good laugh when (if) we ever get to fact-check it against the tech-press echo-chamber invented narrative of how the very few confirmed facts fit together ...
    edited May 23
  • Reply 9 of 36
    bshankbshank Posts: 140member
    Soli said:
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.

    VW is an excellent choice: it has a mass market (volume), but also owns the upscale Audi and Porsche brands (cache). Yes, VW was tarnished by the diesel (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions scandal -- something that might seem to be at odds with Apple's vaunted "green" credentials -- but the company has more than amply penanced for it, with fines and restitutions in the US alone amounting to over $25B. Others such as BMW and M-B are just now being found out as having been involved with similar shenanigans.
    1) Just wait for the Luddites to show up and say how dangerous automation in automobiles is for society. Someone might even claim that driving is more art than skill. :eyeroll:

    2) Regarding the diesel emissions scandal, that shouldn't be a factor as I assume that all vehicles will be fully electric by the time this goes live.
    Good PR opportunity for VW to propel them from that scandal, great for Apple getting their foot in the door and proving concept. Seems almost like the exclusive deal Apple had with AT&T to get into the phone market. Win-win
    bb-15lolliver
  • Reply 10 of 36
    smalmsmalm Posts: 653member
    There are no VW T6's in the USA, and VW have no plans to import them we've been told numerous times by VW.  So this NY Times piece makes little sense. 
    VW providing T6 for a cooperation with Apple and VW not selling T6 in the US car market - completely unrelated.
    lollivertechprod1gyJWSC
  • Reply 11 of 36
    Chris GibbsChris Gibbs Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    smalm said:
    There are no VW T6's in the USA, and VW have no plans to import them we've been told numerous times by VW.  So this NY Times piece makes little sense. 
    VW providing T6 for a cooperation with Apple and VW not selling T6 in the US car market - completely unrelated.
    Even Apple cannot put an 'unregulated foreign sourced' vehicle on public highways.  VW did say the new electric microbus will be hitting US shores soon.  I suspect this could be another factually incorrect NY Time piece, a T7 electric microbus would make more sense.
  • Reply 12 of 36
    hentaiboyhentaiboy Posts: 716member
    Test self-driving out using employees. They're expendable.

    /s
  • Reply 13 of 36
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,202member
    bshank said:
    Soli said:
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.

    VW is an excellent choice: it has a mass market (volume), but also owns the upscale Audi and Porsche brands (cache). Yes, VW was tarnished by the diesel (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions scandal -- something that might seem to be at odds with Apple's vaunted "green" credentials -- but the company has more than amply penanced for it, with fines and restitutions in the US alone amounting to over $25B. Others such as BMW and M-B are just now being found out as having been involved with similar shenanigans.
    1) Just wait for the Luddites to show up and say how dangerous automation in automobiles is for society. Someone might even claim that driving is more art than skill. :eyeroll:

    2) Regarding the diesel emissions scandal, that shouldn't be a factor as I assume that all vehicles will be fully electric by the time this goes live.
    Good PR opportunity for VW to propel them from that scandal, great for Apple getting their foot in the door and proving concept. Seems almost like the exclusive deal Apple had with AT&T to get into the phone market. Win-win
    Good point about the PR.

    Overall I think VW’s rep for quality is good, but their trustworthiness for being “green” is still probably low. As @anantksundaram stated, they aren’t the only guilty party, but they are the most infamous.
    edited May 24 bshank
  • Reply 14 of 36
    hentaiboy said:
    Test self-driving out using employees. They're expendable.

    /s
    Well they are being shot at. Maybe now they can have the driver shoot back.
  • Reply 15 of 36
    applesauce007applesauce007 Posts: 1,538member
    This reminds me of how Apple made the iPhone deal with Cingular before they were bought out by AT&T and made history...

    I think Volkswagen is a much better partner for Apple for many reasons.

    1.  Volkswagen has the coolest electric minibus ever built and with Apple technology, they would sell like iPhones.
    2.  Volkswagen can better afford to do this time wise using one of their subsidiaries without disrupting their existing plans.
    3.  Volkswagen is developing their "ID" electric vehicles from scratch instead of retrofitting. (see video below)
    4.  Volkswagen is probably less committed to Intel / MobileEye technologies and more willing to working with Apple.

    At about 3:00 minutes into the video, the console is an actual iPad.


    edited May 24
  • Reply 16 of 36
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,202member
    This reminds me of how Apple made the iPhone deal with Cingular before they were bought out by AT&T and made history…
    As I recall, Cingular bought AT&T and then changed their name to AT&T because it was better branding for Cingular.
  • Reply 17 of 36
    applesauce007applesauce007 Posts: 1,538member
    Soli said:
    This reminds me of how Apple made the iPhone deal with Cingular before they were bought out by AT&T and made history…
    As I recall, Cingular bought AT&T and then changed their name to AT&T because it was better branding for Cingular.
    I stand corrected. :smile: 
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AT&T_Mobility
  • Reply 18 of 36
    I wonder which BMW vehicle they were considering for employee shuttles? Mercedes have a commercial range with plenty options but the closest thing BMW do would be a 7 seater X5 or the 5 seater 2series? The former being far too awkward to regularly get in and out of and the latter no better than any other standard 5 seater car. The T6 at least is a true compact people-carrier offering up to 9 easily accessible seats.

    I see this as the future Apple is aiming for; not personal car ownership but taxi-based. Automated cars roaming the streets - you use your iPhone to hail the nearest one going your way - all automated, possibly already containing another passenger going to the same place.
  • Reply 19 of 36
    Soli said:
    Ha, some of us never gave up the possibility of Apple getting into autonomous vehicles. This may look modest now, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll be heating a lot more about it in the next couple of years.

    VW is an excellent choice: it has a mass market (volume), but also owns the upscale Audi and Porsche brands (cache). Yes, VW was tarnished by the diesel (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions scandal -- something that might seem to be at odds with Apple's vaunted "green" credentials -- but the company has more than amply penanced for it, with fines and restitutions in the US alone amounting to over $25B. Others such as BMW and M-B are just now being found out as having been involved with similar shenanigans.
    1) Just wait for the Luddites to show up and say how dangerous automation in automobiles is for society. Someone might even claim that driving is more art than skill. :eyeroll:

    2) Regarding the diesel emissions scandal, that shouldn't be a factor as I assume that all vehicles will be fully electric by the time this goes live.
    It'll be interesting to see how the auto companies handle the autonomous and electric trends at the same time. By most accounts, the technology is too energy intensive to run on batteries today. I'm sure battery and charging tech will improve a lot but it is a barrier in the next few years still. I guess one benefit is that the cars can self charge so they aren't wasting human time when they are idle. Then again, even autonomous gas cars will need to politely wait for someone to come and fill them up.
  • Reply 20 of 36
    asciiascii Posts: 5,816member

    I think Volkswagen is a much better partner for Apple for many reasons.

    1.  Volkswagen has the coolest electric minibus ever built and with Apple technology, they would sell like iPhones.
    2.  Volkswagen can better afford to do this time wise using one of their subsidiaries without disrupting their existing plans.
    3.  Volkswagen is developing their "ID" electric vehicles from scratch instead of retrofitting. (see video below)
    4.  Volkswagen is probably less committed to Intel / MobileEye technologies and more willing to working with Apple.
    5. Steve Jobs got the money to start Apple by selling his Volkswagen bus.
    matrix077anantksundaramSpamSandwich
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