August 17, 2015
Apple Inc. is notorious for its next-level focus on secrecy and security, which on one level makes a good deal of sense—after all, when you’re one of the most recognizable brands on the planet, it makes good business sense to keep your proprietary data under wraps as much as possible. Then again, such secrecy can prove annoying when attempting to glean even a scrap of information about projects in the Apple pipeline. However, we now have some intel about one of the company’s most intriguing endeavors: Project Titan. For those not in the know, Project Titan is the mysterious (and let’s face it, cool sounding) code name for Apple’s long-rumored self-driving electric vehicle project. Project Titan has been one of the worst kept secrets in the automobile industry—although Apple reps deny such a project exists, insiders have suspected that the tech giant has been working on it for some time. Now we have confirmation, courtesy of The Guardian, that Project Titan has progressed further than the public was previously aware. Project Titan: “Further Along Than Many Suspected” In May, Apple engineers met with officials from GoMentum Station, a decommissioned naval base in Concord, CA that now serves as the world’s largest testing facility for autonomous vehicles. According to documents obtained by The Guardian, Apple engineer Frank Fearon reached out to GoMentum to inquire about “timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it].” As the pre-eminent self-driving vehicle testing facility on the West Coast, GoMentum Station has been engaged by Silicon Valley companies such as Apple, Google and Tesla, along with the local R&D divisions of Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Nissan. Among GoMentum’s key appeals for automakers include military-grade security and 2,100 acres of testing ground, including 20 miles of paved roadways on which to test their self-driving vehicles. Auto companies like Tesla have explored using the GoMentum Station testing facility for its own self-driving car projects, although Honda is currently the only one to sign a contract. Apparently, however, even GoMentum’s high security standards weren’t enough to encourage Apple to comment on The Guardian report. For his part, GoMentum Station owner Randy Iwasaki said that he’s prevented by the non-disclosure agreement he signed with Apple to reveal any of the company’s business activities, including Project Titan. The Secret History of Project Titan Spies within the notoriously secretive Apple loudly whispered about a closely guarded autonomous vehicle project within the company, but the correspondence with GoMentum is the first officially documented reference to it. Though it’s apparently been in the works for years, Apple’s self-driving vehicle project—which is often referred to in the press as the Apple Car—has long been shrouded in mystery. It was only this year that the public learned of the existence of Apple’s offsite top-secret Project Titan facility for automotive research and development. Apple insiders report that Project Titan, housed in a building in Sunnyvale, CA that’s minutes away from the company’s Cupertino HQ, has worked on “numerous automotive-related renovations,” including (presumably) self-driving vehicle technology. As befitting the company’s M.O., Apple has been so secretive about the work done of the Titan project that employees have been asked to conceal their company badges when entering the Project Titan building so as to not be spotted by attentive onlookers. Since leasing the space in 2014, Apple has expanded its Project Titan operations in Sunnyvale to include several labs and workshop spaces. Conveniently enough, the Project Titan building is also within close proximity to GoMentum Station near Silicon Valley. Hundreds of employees are rumored to be working on the top-secret Project Titan, and Apple CEO Tim Cook apparently authorized the recruitment of another thousand more Apple employees for the project. In early February, a mystery machine (not, not this one, but rather the one pictured with this article) was spotted in the Bay Area that many thought might be an Apple Car prototype. At the time, some speculated that the unidentifiable minivan with the multi-camera rig on its roof was taking real-time street view data in order to develop Apple’s version of the Street View feature of Google Maps for its Apple Car project. In June, Apple confirmed that it was indeed collecting street-level intel for its Apple Maps service, thought it wouldn’t confirm or deny its relevance to Project Titan. Developing Apple Self-Driving Cars Having already made its mark in multiple industries—including computers, music, telecommunications and, most recently, watches—Apple is now hoping to do the same in the ever-evolving automotive field. At present, the most notable Apple auto innovation has been with its Apple CarPlay in-car connectivity feature that’s currently utilized by auto brands like Ferrari, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz. This led some observers to opine that Apple would limit itself to on-board Internet tech and wouldn’t dare venture into the highly competitive self-driving vehicle field with established heavyweights like Google and Tesla. However, recent evidence suggests that this isn’t quite the case. It was revealed earlier this year that Apple was poaching top automotive technology and design experts to work on a top-secret project that many presume is Project Titan. In addition, rumor held that executives from Apple and BMW met to discuss partnering on an electric vehicle project, with speculation centering on the BMW electric i3 vehicle as a baseline model for the Apple Car. Although the two parties didn’t agree to a deal, the door was left open for future negotiations. Despite the speculation, there’s no indication at this stage that Apple is any closer to producing its own self-driving car. Apple execs have been said to be eyeing 2020 as a potential starting date for autonomous vehicle production, which is an aggressive deadline given that it typically takes experienced automakers about five to seven years to produce a car. Moreover, Tesla and GM already have a head start on Google, as their electric vehicles are scheduled for release sometime in 2017. There is a good deal of pressure on these companies to develop a self-driving vehicle prototype as soon as possible. According to a report from Lux Research released in June, self-driving vehicles project to be an $87 billion dollar industry by 2020. Even for a brand as globally dominant as Apple, that’s certainly an industry worth getting involved in—and despite its protestations to the contrary, it appears to be doing exactly that.