Court Documents Reveal 7 Apple Self-Driving Car Secrets

The existence of Project Titan, Apple’s self-driving car project, has been a poorly kept secret for several years now. Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed work on autonomous systems in an interview last year, and the company has dozens of modified Lexus SUVs driving around California roads.

Yet, despite the fact that we know Apple is working on autonomous vehicle systems, we don’t know much about the specifics. But a new set of court documents filed after an ex-Apple engineer attempted to steal trade secrets, we may now know a few more things about Project Titan than we previously did.

 

7 Apple Has a Ton of People Working on Project Titan

Apple has a lot of people working on Project Titan. According to the court documents in the Zhang case, about 5,000 Apple employees are listed as being a part of the autonomous vehicle project.

For context, Apple has about 135,000 full-time employees. While 5,000 of that number may not seem like a lot, just consider that in 2016, Project Titan was estimated to have about 1,000 people working on it. In just two years, the division seems to have grown significantly.

 

6 There’s a Lot of Data Related to Project Titan

The simple fact that Zhang was able to illicitly download so much data about Apple’s autonomous car project suggests that there is quite a lot going on behind closed doors.

Court documents reveal that Zhang had downloaded “copious pages of information from the various confidential database applications.” In other words, there is likely quite a bit more to Apple’s autonomous vehicle work that we already know about.

 

5 Apple Maps Will Likely Play a Part in Project Titan

While the court documents don’t mention Apple Maps, this warrants a place on the list simply because of the timing. Apple is completely overhauling Apple Maps with first-party data. It doesn’t make much sense for the company to do so unless it also had ambitions beyond its navigation app.

Accurate first-party mapping data could obviously come in handy for autonomous systems. Combine this with the fact that Apple is also expanding its efforts in the machine learning and AI spheres, and you have a recipe for advanced navigation systems that can truly leverage mapping data.

4 Project Titan Is Divided into Segmented Teams

Although Apple has around 5,000 people in total who are apparently working on the autonomous car project, the company is likely to have its total Project Titan team segmented into individual groups.

According to the court documents, around 2,700 Apple employees had access to the same databases that Zhang did. This isn’t a new strategy, Apple usually divides up its product teams to ensure that fewer people have a clear glimpse at the “whole picture.”

 

3 It May Stretch Beyond Underlying Systems

During his stint at Apple, Zhang worked on systems analysis hardware. Specifically, he was said to have designed and tested circuit boards that can analyze data gathered by sensors (like those on Apple’s self-driving Lexus vehicles).

But the court documents also show that Zhang had stolen prototypes and secrets related to power and low voltage requirements, drivetrain suspension mounts, and battery systems. While those may play a part in self-driving car technology, it also hints that the scope of Project Titan might be broader.

 

2 Apple Is Actively Recruiting

This piece of information isn’t revealed in the Zhang court documents, but it has been around the Apple rumor mill in the last few weeks. Namely, Apple is still actively recruiting engineers and staff for its work on autonomous systems.

Last month, the company hired a senior Waymo engineer named Jaime Waydo. If that wasn’t enough, just take a look at Apple’s Jobs webpage. You’ll find quite a few positions related to robotics, autonomous systems and other platforms that could prove pivotal to a self-driving car.

 

1 Project Titan Is an Open Secret

If anything, the Zhang incident just proves that Apple’s “New Product Security” team is really good at its job. The team was able to detect Zhang’s covert downloading, even if the ex-engineer — presumably — took steps to remain under-the-radar.

But it also goes to show that the company wants to keep as much of Project Titan’s sensitive data under wraps as possible. While it’s no longer feasible for Apple to keep the existence of the project a secret, it’s clear that there will certainly be something to “surprise and delight” consumers when Apple finally debuts the tech.

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