When in doubt or in risk of falling behind the competition, you buy the competition. That might be what Apple was thinking with it recently purchased a small self-driving research and shuttle firm called Drive.ai.
- The tech giant has purchased Drive.ai, a self-drive shuttle company based in Texas
- Apple has already stated it’s working on autonomous cars
- It’s unlikely, but not impossible, Apple might build its own autonomous vehicle.
- This acquisition is likely a move to keep pace with Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Google.
While this start-up was hardly going to challenge Apple’s plans to move into self-drive technology, it did offer a valuable source of engineers for Apple to add to its roster of people dedicated to autonomous vehicle research and development.
That unit of Apple is routinely called Project Titan, though details about what it has planned remain unclear. Many assume Apple will work on the behind-the-scenes software and sensor arrays that autonomous drive systems will need in the years ahead. A more unlikely scenario is that Apple could build and market its own vehicle – though the extremely complicated logistics involved with building a car make this a long shot, at best.
As for Drive.ai, the company reportedly has been struggling and was on the verge of closing shop before Apple came knocking on its door. Based in Arlington, Texas, Drive.ai operated a small fleet of customized Nissan NV200 vans fitted with an array of sensors to navigate through traffic. Since 2018, the company has been offering customers the chance to hail one of these autonomous vans for short rides from locations like AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys football team, and other popular sports-related and tourist hot spots.
The service was entirely free to use, and rides could be hailed at dedicated kiosks in Arlington, or by using a Drive.ai smartphone app. On average, the longest drive on offer was less than two miles, and each trip stuck to a dedicated network of roads and defined routes. Also, in keeping with safety regulations, a driver had to be onboard and behind the wheel, ready to take over the controls should something go wrong.
Apparently, that safety net wasn’t quite enough to save the company from outside entities in the tech and mobility world.