Project Titan is On Going

Apple is also researching self-driving car, with the name of Project Titan. It is first reported in 2014. Although Apple has never confirmed the project, it’s an open secret. Apple is known for its confidential culture. Apple caught 29 leakers and arrested 12 of them last year, Bloomberg reported. [1]

On July 7th, a former Apple engineer (Zhang Xiaolang) was arrested on charges of theft of trade secrets. He was intercepted at the San Jose International Airport when he planned to board a flight to China. He would be sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine if he convicted of stealing Apple self-driving car secrets.

Zhang joined apple in 2015 and worked as a hardware engineer on Apple autonomous vehicle development team. He was almost the earliest employees involved in the Project Titan. There are several points associated with Project Titan in the criminal complaint.

Approx. 4% Apple employees

There are about 5,000 people of Apple’s over 135,000 employees are involved on the Project. Approximately 2,700 are core employees, who are working full time on the Project.

Zhang worked in the computer team under the Research and Development department. In 2014, The Project Titan team was said to number around 1,000 including Apple other departments members and automotive specialists. Suppose the average salary of those core employees is $150,000 per year, and 20% of total R&D investment, it’s almost $2 billion. This is a huge project.

Proprietary Chip

Zhang designed and tested circuit boards to analyze multiple sensor data. He was shown a proprietary chip, which probably an ASIC or SoC for autonomous vehicles. Apple keeps designing more and more own house chips for its iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Watches.  Apple focused on designing and left manufacturing to others, including TSMC. Apple has already accumulated great knowledge of built a chip. In 2017, Apple released A11 bionic chip in iPhone X which integrated GPU. GPU can be used for repetitive algorithms which would be widely used in ADAS functions. GPU parallel computing has a great performance for implementing Convolutional Neural Networks. Apple used PowerVR GPU from Imagination Technologies in previous products, and shifted to its own IP from iPhone X. Apple is achieving a great success story for creating its own chips, although it isn’t the first company to do it.

Not only Software

Zhang downloaded some confidential documents associated with the topic such as power requirements, low voltage requirements, battery system, drivetrain suspension mounts.

It’s not only about the autonomous vehicle software but also hardware. It shows Apple’s ambition of building a total hardware platform. The battery system is the key for the electric car. Power requirements are associated with the driving range. They indicate that Apple tries to build an electric vehicle with its autonomous driving system. Apple builds a closed software and hardware ecosystem in its existing products. They may try to use the same experience in Project Titan. Apple is a newcomer in the car industry. However, compared with petrol engine vehicle, electric vehicle reduces the threshold of entering the car industry. The situation is the same before they released iPhone in 2007.

[1] Ex-Apple Employee Stole Secrets for Chinese Firm, U.S. Says

 

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