In a move reportedly designed to acquire engineers with experience in autonomous vehicle technology, Apple may make startup Drive.Ai the next company it acquires. Specifically, a deal between the two would actually be more of an “acquihire,” meaning Apple would go in and pick only selected Drive.Ai staff whom it wants to keep. Should the deal go through, Apple actually won’t even be using intellectual property from the company – but figures to make extensive use of its talent.
Sources familiar with the startup note that Drive.Ai has actually been on sale for quite some time now. The company has largely struggled to take off on its own, and has also had a limited number of pilot tests; one contract with the city of Frisco in Texas even fell apart after the city cited high costs from the company. Despite some struggles with the launch, reports from outlets like Bloomberg have noted that Drive.AI was still valued, at one point, at around $200 million – though it’s still unclear what kind of financial investment Apple will be making to acquire the aforementioned staff.
On Apple’s end, the company has actually been working on autonomous driving technology for several years already. Some of its attempts have been unsuccessful however, and the company even had to lay off over 200 employees who had been working on the autonomous driving initiative – Project Titan – just this year. While acknowledging the layoffs though, an Apple spokesperson has emphasized the company still sees opportunity for them up ahead. ““We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems,” the spokesperson said, adding that “Apple has unique capabilities to contribute.”
It should be noted that Apple has struggled with previous auto-related acquisitions before, and while they’re unrelated, they may give some people pause in trusting that the tech giant will ultimately be a leader in autonomous driving. Perhaps most notably, Apple tried to gain a stake in Formula 1 racing back in 2016, with ambitious to set up a car or racing team of its own. This would have connected the Apple brand to a globally beloved sport with countless fans and a busy online betting market, not to mention limitless marketing opportunities. However, the F1 deal fell through, indicating that Apple does not, in fact, always get what it wants.
Further evidence of this is seen in the fact that Apple also put in a failed bid for Tesla back in 2013, which had it gone through would have marked the company’s largest acquisition ever (at an estimated $36 billion). And in a much vaguer sense, many fans of the company have simply assumed that a commercial “Apple Car” would be on the way at one point or another, only to be disappointed on this front.
These examples – Formula 1, Tesla, and the specter of an Apple Car – aren’t meant to convey pessimism so much as serve as a reminder that the auto space has been unusually tricky for a company many of us assume can simply work magic. Whether or not Drive.Ai will provide the boost that alters this trend and pushes Apple to the forefront of the autonomous driving race will be an interesting story to keep an eye on.