Apple (AAPL) acknowledged the layoffs. “We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple,” the spokesperson told CNBC. “We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever.”
CEO Tim Cook first acknowledged in June 2017 that Apple was working on autonomous vehicle systems, but he didn’t elaborate much. Initially, observers thought Apple was developing its own car, but it became apparent the company was instead modifying readymade SUVs from Lexus and focusing on software for autonomous vehicles.
In August 2018, former Tesla vice president Doug Field returned to Apple to lead the Titan team alongside Bob Mansfield. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has dissed Apple as “Tesla’s Graveyard,” where engineers who couldn’t hack it at Tesla go to make a car.
Last July, an engineer from Project Titan was accused of stealing Apple secrets to take to a Chinese company. Xiaolang Zhang pleaded not guilty; the next hearing in the federal case is set for February. If convicted, he faces up to a decade of prison time and a $250,000 fine.
The process against Zhang has revealed, however, that as of last summer Apple had about 5,000 of its 135,000 employees at least familiar with Project Titan, with about 2,700 of them core team members. If the recent cuts affected only the core team, that means the 200 job losses account for a 7.4% staffing reduction for the autonomous vehicle division.