On Tuesday, Apple confirmed that it has purchased the self-driving start-up Drive.ai. Apple made the deal due to its continued interest in self-driving car software. The iPhone maker acquired Drive.ai, which had been running a small fleet of test shuttles in Texas. The start-up was struggling with finances and was laying off its staff, moving towards permanent closure. Drive.ai was once valued at $200 million.
Drive.ai, a California based start-up was founded by machine learning researchers from Stanford University in 2015. The initiative was one of the more promising startups in the self-driving industry, just about till a year ago. The company made a name for itself for using revolutionary ways to recognize and avoid objects on the road. Last year, it made headlines with its fixed-route tests conducted with its autonomous vehicles without human safety drivers on public roads.
In January 2019, Apple moved just over 200 employees out of the Project Titan, its secret autonomous vehicle plan. It is believed that the recent deal was made to hire the automobile company’s engineers. It is a common practice in Silicon Valley, called ‘acquihire’. It was a good bargain for Apple as it would bolster the tech giant’s engineering ranks with additional employees who can build autonomous vehicle technology.
Last year in August, Apple got onboard a Tesla engineering vice president and Apple veteran, Doug Field, to lead the Titan team alongside Bob Mansfield.
The company hasn’t spoken openly about its project, which appears to have graduated from the initial rumoured vehicle to a focus on software. The layoff, which company made from the same project, looks like a shift in its strategy.
Apple is competing against rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo to develop self-driving vehicles. Fully autonomous cars are still in the experimental phase, even for major players in the field such as Waymo, Cruise and Tesla.
A takeover is similar to that by Drive.ai. can today be seen as an emerging trend in the industry as the traditional automobile makers are investing heavily into start-ups developing self-driving vehicles including Zoox, Pony.AI, Aurora, May Mobility and Embark.