Autonomous driving startup Zoox steals 17 Apple engineers

Apple’s decision to scale back its plans for a self-driving car has reportedly resulted in 17 of its engineers leaving the project to join autonomous driving firm Zoox.

Bloomberg has published an account this week that said the engineers who left were specialists in suspension, braking and other mechanical systems. These individuals were not trained by Apple — they originally came from conventional car manufacturers.

According to insiders, the engineers departed because they were to a large extent no longer working on self-driving technology at Apple. The firm has instead decided to focus on building self-driving employee shuttles.

Since 2015, Zoox has managed to acquire $290 million in funding. The firm from Menlo Park, California, refers to itself as a “robotics company pioneering autonomous mobility as-a-service.”

It plans to eventually produce a “fully automated, electric vehicle fleet and the supporting ecosystem required to bring the service to market at scale.”

Bloomberg revealed that during the last two years an Apple supply chain specialist also crossed the floor to Zoox.

Earlier this month, reports suggested that Apple will join forces with an existing car manufacturer to produce an autonomous shuttle that will be used to transport staff at its Apple Park HQ. The firm will reportedly provide the self-driving technology, while the car manufacturer will provide existing commercial vehicles to modify.

Exactly when the project (called PAIL) will produce its first self-driving shuttle is not known.

After executive Bob Mansfield became head of the firm’s Project Titan self-driving car program in 2016, staffing was drastically reduced and the focus shifted to supporting solutions and software. Apple is currently rebuilding the division, this time emphasising autonomous systems instead of car production.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has granted Apple a self-driving auto permit and the firm is currently testing its self-driving technology on a relatively small number of Lexus RX450h SUVs.

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