Apple self-driving car: everything you need to know

Gossip from way back when

Wall Street Journal tech writers Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Ramsey released a story at in February 2015 that set the rumor mill around the Apple Car turning. 

According to the report, several hundred employees were working on an Apple-branded electric car at a secret lab in Cupertino, one that CEO Tim Cook green lit almost a year before.

But tales of a so-called "iCar" date back almost eight years, to when Volkswagen was reportedly in talks with the tech giant about incorporating products into its vehicles – although this likely turned out to be a discussion surrounding Apple's CarPlay infotainment system rather than anything Apple Car related.

However, Steve Jobs alluded to the potential of an Apple-branded vehicle when he told John Markoff of The New York Times that if he had more energy, he would have liked to "take on Detroit."

Whether this was merely Jobs hinting at a progressive in-car entertainment system rather than a revolutionary vehicle is anyone's guess, but Apple board member Mickey Drexler reiterated the fact that Jobs was interested in cars during an interview with Paul Goldberger.

He stated with much confidence that if Jobs had lived he was going to design an "iCar". Drexler eventually stepped down from Apple's board.

The rumors resurface

Mike Ramsey, an automotive reporter working in Detroit, co-wrote a piece that started all of this in the Wall Street Journal, stating that Apple was working on a top secret project dubbed "Titan" that supposedly involved hundreds of employees working on an Apple-branded vehicle.

Ramsey said that alarms bells were raised in Silicon Valley with Apple's unusual hiring of staff outside of the consumer technology arena.

"Apple hired the head of research and development from Mercedes-Benz's North American R&D labs and that was a pretty odd hiring," Ramsey said in an interview.

Everything you need to know about the Apple Car

"You can understand that maybe Apple did this to move its CarPlay research on, but it seems this level of experience goes way beyond simple in-car entertainment systems."

After the story was published, California residents added fuel to the flames by claiming that vans registered to Apple had been seen cruising the streets, sporting all manner of LIDAR and radar technology.

Paul Godsmark, chief technology officer at the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, told Cult of Mac that these data-gathering vans appeared to be mapping the streets.

Apple Car naysayers instantly hit back with an argument that Apple was, in fact, gathering data for its own version of Google's Street View rather than working on a vehicle. But those with knowledge of autonomous motoring reasoned that self-driving cars require detailed maps to operate. 

The evidence mounts

Allegations that Apple had been pinching staff from battery manufacturer A123 soon surfaced after the initial "iCar" reports made national news.

According to a lawsuit field against the tech giant, Apple had been poaching A123 staff and Tesla workers for its own battery projects.

Everything you need to know about the Apple Car

Cynics would say that Apple could be doing this merely in order to take its battery research in-house, thus decreasing overheads and potentially speeding up the process. Not a bad thing, considering an iPhone barely lasts a day without needing to plug it in.

Michelle Fitzsimmons

Michelle was previously a news editor at TechRadar, leading consumer tech news and reviews. Michelle is now a Content Strategist at Facebook.  A versatile, highly effective content writer and skilled editor with a keen eye for detail, Michelle is a collaborative problem solver and covered everything from smartwatches and microprocessors to VR and self-driving cars.