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Apple reportedly partnering with Volkswagen to make self-driving employee shuttles

Apple’s once-ambitious self-driving car project has narrowed even further. The New York Times now reports that the company’s negotiations with German automakers, including BMW and Mercedes, to develop an all-electric self-driving car have fallen through, after both companies refused to let Apple have control over the design of the vehicle and the data it produces. Now, Apple is partnering with Volkswagen to turn existing T6 Transporter vans into self-driving shuttles for Apple employees, the report says.

We’ve known since last year that Apple’s car division, codenamed Project Titan and once aimed at making both the hardware and software for a new autonomous vehicle, had shifted gears to focus in the near-term on a shuttle service known as PAIL, for Palo Alto to Infinite Loop. (Infinite Loop is the name of the street the company’s previous main campus was located on, prior to the spaceship-shaped Apple Park opened last year.) Now we know Volkswagen is the company providing Apple with the actual vehicles.

The New York Times report, however, says that the entire Apple car team seems to be consumed with getting this shuttle service off the ground, and that there are no concrete plans for what comes after. That would suggest that Apple’s ambitions with Project Titan have been even more severely diminished. The Times reports that hundreds of people have left the division in the few years since it was expanded to more than 1,000 employees.

Despite that, Apple’s prototype self-driving cars can be spotted driving around Palo Alto. The company also has more autonomous vehicles — the company commands a fleet of Lexus RX450h SUVs for testing purposes — registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles than both Uber and Alphabet-owned Waymo. So it may be too early to count Apple out of the self-driving game, especially when we know so little of its future plans. Last August, CEO Tim Cook suggested his company’s work in autonomous systems could be used “in a variety of ways” and in “in many different areas,” suggesting Apple may have lofty plans in the robotics market or in some other application of computer vision and artificial intelligence.

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