John GiannandreaSource: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

What you need to know

  • John Giannandrea, Apple's head of AI and machine learning, is taking over its self-driving project.
  • The move comes as Bob Mansfield fully retires from the company.

Reported by Bloomberg, Apple has now placed John Giannandrea, Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, in charge of the company's self-driving car project. The news came as Bob Mansfield, Apple's former Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, announced his full retirement.

According to the report, Doug Field, who has run the day-to-day for Project Titan, will continue to do so but now report directly to Giannandrea.

The project, known as Titan, is run day-to-day by Doug Field. His team of hundreds of engineers have moved to Giannandrea's artificial intelligence and machine-learning group, according to people familiar with the change. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Mansfield has been serving as a part-time consultant to Apple since 2013 but has now handed the reigns of the project over to Giannandrea, who has been leading Apple's machine learning efforts after being in charge of machine learning and search at Google.

In 2014, Apple set out to build an autonomous electric car to take on Tesla and other manufacturers, only to pare back its ambitions around 2016. The project was struggling with direction, leadership and technical challenges, Bloomberg reported at the time, and Apple brought back Mansfield to lead the effort. Mansfield oversaw a shift from the development of a car to just the underlying autonomous system.

Apple has been testing its self-driving technology since 2017, reaching 118 miles before requiring a human to take over the controls in its most recent public testing. While the effort has seen its ups and downs, Tim Cook has called it "a core technology that we view as very important," dispelling rumors that Apple might completely abandon the project.

In 2017, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told Bloomberg that the autonomous systems effort was the "mother of all AI projects" and "a core technology that we view as very important." He also described it as "probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on."

It is still unclear if Project Titan will take the form of an autonomous car that directly competes with electric vehicle brands like Tesla, or if Apple will develop the underlying technology and make it available to companies in another way.