Global tech giant Apple has made a move in the autonomous vehicle race, acquiring embattled California startup Drive.ai.
Once valued at $200 million, Drive.ai provides bus-like autonomous vehicles to shuttle passengers between selected destinations on demand.
The vehicles currently operate with safety drivers on board, however the plan was to remove that precaution by 2021.
Despite several early successes and some $77 million in investment, the startup has been cruising a rough road of late.
In March, according to a Venture Beat report, it pulled out of Frisco, Texas, where it had been operating a small fleet of autonomous shuttle buses running between an office park and a shopping complex. The city did not renew its contract, citing high operating expenses.
Instead, the business re-focused on its Arlington fleet, ferrying passengers between the Dallas Cowboys stadium, the Texas Rangers ballpark, the Arlington Convention Center and the CenterPoint office complex.
On 20 June, the startup notified the State of California Employment Development Department it would be closing its Santa Clara office permanently, and laying off 90 staff members.
And, back in February, The Information reported Drive.ai was seeking a buyer.
Although neither Apple nor Drive.ai have disclosed the value of the investment, it is believed it’s much less than the once lofty $200 million valuation, and may be less than the $77 million that’s been poured into the startup.
However, the acquisition shows Apple hasn’t given up on being part of the autonomous vehicle party.
While the likes of Tesla and Uber make no secret of their endeavours to provide autonomous transport options, Apple has been working in stealth mode on its own mysterious self-driving project, codenamed Project Titan.
An Apple-branded car that syncs directly with my phone and my iWatch and makes that lovely ‘waaah’ sound when you fire it up? I, for one, can’t wait.