Fresh off the launch of M1 Macs -- a momentous occasion that has been in the works for nearly a decade -- Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be turning its silicon ambitions to Project Titan, the company's oft-rumored autonomous car initiative that has stagnated in recent years and faced numerous setbacks. Apple's artificial intelligence chief John Giannandrea has recently taken leadership of the secretive division, according to Bloomberg.

The Mac maker is reportedly working on new custom chips for its mythical Apple Car.

Finger pressing an "Autonomous Drive Start" button

Image source: Getty Images.

Is Apple copying Tesla?

This week, DIGITIMES reported that Apple is collaborating with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE:TSM), its primary chip foundry partner, to develop a custom chip for autonomous cars, similar to those that Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has created.

Tesla had hired renowned chip designer Jim Keller away from AMD back in 2016 to make custom chips for its own vehicles, before Intel hired him away in 2018. Keller resigned from Intel over the summer. The electric-car maker has been pushing ahead with its chip ambitions and is reportedly working on a new custom chip -- also with TSMC -- to power its fourth-generation hardware.

The Cupertino tech giant has been evaluating various aspects of the sprawling automotive supply chain and engaging with certain component providers to gauge pricing, according to the report. DIGITIMES also claims that the Apple Car may be unveiled in 2024 or 2025. Supply chain sources reportedly suggested that the Apple Car resembles Tesla vehicles.

The rumors should be taken with some healthy skepticism, since DIGITIMES has a spotty track record with supply chain speculation.

Will Apple Car ever be real?

It's worth noting that Apple's main contract manufacturer, Foxconn, has been looking to expand into the electric vehicle (EV) market, recently unveiling an open, modular platform that can accommodate a variety of chassis designs and battery capacities. The Taiwanese company is partnering with Yulon through a joint venture to develop solid-state battery technology.

After playing coy for years, Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledged the effort in 2017 when he confirmed that the company was "focusing on autonomous systems" and that self-driving cars are a "core technology." The chief executive has expectedly remained mostly silent in the years since.

Few companies pursue custom silicon due to the extremely high costs and protracted development timeline. Apple's proprietary chip strategy has evolved into a world-class operation over the years and it is now considered among the most sophisticated chipmakers in the world. Tesla unveiled its chip in early 2019. It incorporates a dedicated neural network processor. Tesla has long argued that its vehicles have the hardware necessary for full autonomy, but no self-driving cars currently exist.

Apple appears to be taking a different approach to autonomous driving than Tesla, as the various prototypes that have been spotted over the years use a lidar sensor array, which Tesla famously eschews.

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