A More Charitable Take on Apple’s Self-Driving Car Ambitions

I’m still reeling a bit from Bloomberg’s reporting on what Apple was hoping to achieve with its self-driving car project. Even though $1 billion a year isn’t much on Apple’s scale, it’s clear that a lot of time and energy went into this project over the last ten years.

Many of Apple’s ideas around the future of the car were just too far-fetched to ship anything in the near future. However, I think there are at least three benefits to what the company was working toward with Project Titan.

Consumer Safety

In the United States, car crashes are a leading non-natural cause of death for people up to the age of 54, and some 1.4 million people are killed on roadways around the world each year. Those numbers are staggering.

The promise of a self-driving future is that far fewer people will die in automobile accidents. Autonomous vehicles don’t fall asleep behind the wheel, get distracted by looking at their phones, run red lights, or drive while under the influence.

Reducing — or entirely eliminating — deaths caused by car crashes is a noble goal. It’s clear in both the “Bread Loaf” and “I-Beam” designs that Mark Gurman and Drake Bennett reported on that this was at the heart of Apple’s work.

Better Cities

Some people pitch their vision of the future as one defined by robotaxis. Hail a car, hop in, and the computer will take you where you need to go, without human intervention or interaction. While I think that is an exciting possibility, it seems to me that it is merely a stepping stone toward something bigger.

If cars are autonomously delivering people to work, school, and more, people can begin to rethink infrastructure on a broader level. Mass transit could become more easily accessible to everyone, with cities like mine embracing it for the first time in a meaningful way. It may start with replacing human-driven vehicles with computer-controlled ones, but it doesn’t have to stop there.


Lastly, we come to services. I am sure Apple wants to be a player in the robotaxi future comes, if it comes to fruition, but the opportunities are more fundamental than that. A car that doesn’t need a driver can become anything ranging from a mobile office to a rolling movie theater. Apple already offers services — and devices — that serve those markets, and could continue to expand its ecosystem in new and interesting ways.

Granted, this more of a benefit to Apple than society, but I’m sure folks at the company were thinking about what they could do.

Ahead of its Time

As I wrote earlier today, much of what Apple was hoping to accomplish with its car project was just out of reach of what is possible today. Honestly, if Apple couldn’t pull this off, I am not sure who else can at this point. Part of me feels disappointed at that, but it doesn’t mean Apple’s work here was completely in vain. I have no doubt their work in some of the areas required to build a self-driving car will (or already have) proved to be beneficial to products like the iPhone or Vision Pro.

Should Apple have pulled the plug on the car project years ago? Probably, but sometimes barely-kept-secret projects are not just about the destination.