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Apple self-driving car layoffs give hints to division's direction



(Reuters) – Apple Inc. said Wednesday that it plans to lay off 190 employees in its self-driving car program, Project Titan, which offers a rare window into the automotive technologies the company has been pursuing.

The tech firm said in a filing with a state regulator that it planned to lay people off from eight different Santa Clara County facilities near its Cupertino, California, headquarters, as of April 16th. A company spokesman confirmed that the reduction was from the self-driving car program.

While the iPhone maker has acknowledged its interest in self-driving cars in broad terms, it has never detailed exactly which technologies it is working on and whether it seeks to build a whole vehicle or sensors, computer system and software to control one

The public files filed with regulators provide some previously undisclosed clues.

Among those laid off were at least two dozen software engineers, including a machine learning engineer, and 40 hardware engineers, according to a letter sent by Apple to California employment regulators earlier this month.

Some of the positions hints at physical products for consumers: three product design engineers and an ergonomics engineer face layoffs. A machine shop supervisor was among the reductions, although it is unclear how many machinists reported to the supervisor and whether the shop fabricates automotive parts or smaller parts for electronics and sensors.

The layoffs seem to be the first major shake-up of Project Titan under Doug Field, who returned to Apple last year as Vice President of Special Projects after a stint at the electric car maker Tesla Inc.

Apple operates the car project on an "need-to-know" basis, with only about 5,000 of Apple's 1

40,000 full-time employees included, according to court records in a theft of trade secrets filed this year against ex -Apple employee.

About 1,200 of those are "core" employees who are "directly working on the development of the project," according to the complaint, which was unsealed in January.

FILE PHOTO: The Apple Inc. REUTERS / Lucy Nicholson / File Photo

Despite the headcount changes, the company seems to have ramped up its testing. on California roads. In a filing with regulators earlier this month, Apple said it had logged nearly 80,000 miles of testing in its home state in 2018, far surpassing the less than 1,000 miles it had logged the year before.

It was, however, far less than Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo unit, which logged 1.2 million miles in California last year.

(The story corrects the second paragraph to reflect that there were eight, not seven affected facilities in Santa Clara County, not city)

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Dan Grebler and Rosalba O'Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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