Apple’s autonomous car unit gets a new driver

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The Apple Car won‘t look anything like this. At all.
The Apple autonomous vehicle project is now part of the company’s AI division.
Illustration: Cult of Mac

Apple’s self-driving car division is reportedly on the move, but not in the usual way. The project has been transferred into Apple’s artificial intelligence division.

The reorg comes at the retirement of Bob Mansfield, who’d been managing the company’s not-so-secret autonomous vehicle development.

Apple Car is a crazy-difficult AI challenge

Apple CEO Tim Cook described self-driving cars as “the mother of all AI projects” back in 2017, so the reorg makes sense.

And it will put development under the leadership of John Giannandrea, the company’s senior vice president for machine learning and AI strategy. Apple lured Giannandrea away from Google in 2018. Since then, he’s been responsible for integrating machine learning into many Apple products. That includes the advanced handwriting-recognition system Scribble in iPadOS 14.

Another reason for changing the leadership of the self-driving car division is the retirement of Mansfield. Again. He was in charge of Mac hardware at Apple for many years, then retired in 2012. He came back in 2016 to lead the autonomous vehicle division. Now he’s left the company again, according to Bloomberg.

However, Doug Field will continue to handle the project on a day-to-day basis. This long-time Apple employee spent several years at Tesla overseeing development of new electric vehicles before returning to Cupertino to become head of the company’s self-driving car efforts. He’ll report to Giannandrea.

Apple self-driving vehicle project finally gets into gear

The company’s self-driving car division is supposedly making progress. In 2018, Apple’s test cars could barely go a mile without the human safety driver taking over. (Apple claimed it was simply playing things super-safe.) By 2019, the rate dropped enormously. The vehicles could go on average 118 miles without the driver taking back control, according to Bloomberg sources. There’s no data yet on 2020.

While Cook sounded ambitious about self-driving cars in 2017, it’s not clear if the company’s goals have changed since then. Unconfirmed reports in recent years said Apple might simply develop software and systems to be sold to automakers.