Apple has acquired Drive.ai, a Mountain View, California-based driverless car startup. The company had been on the brink of bankruptcy and expected to lay off 90 employees later this week.
The acquisition, confirmed by Apple to Axios, not only saves Drive.ai and many of its engineers, but also reaffirms that Apple is still actively interested in developing autonomous vehicle technology. It was reported earlier in June that Apple, among others, had shown interest in acquiring Drive.ai.
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The iPhone maker and its secretive Project Titan division first flirted with the idea of building an entire car from scratch several yeas ago, before has since scaled back and focused on developing driverless technology instead.
Apple has said nothing about Project Titan in public or on stage at its glitzy product launches. Instead, the company has worked so quietly that no one is entirely sure what it is aiming to achieve. Apple laid off 190 employees from its self-driving car division earlier this year in a restructuring effort.
As for Drive.ai, the company was founded by machine learning researchers from Stanford University in 2015, and operates a fleet of distinctive driverless vans painted blue and bright orange.
The startups vans feature screens for giving information to pedestriansDrive.ai
Uniquely, the vans include four LCD displays, used to deliver written messages to pedestrians and other road users. Message like "waiting for you to cross" are displayed so pedestrians know what the van is doing, even when it isn't moving.
Despite operating in a crowded market, Drive.ai had shown promise with its fleet of modified Nissan NV200 vans. According to its Crunchbase profile, the company raised a total of $77 million of investment over five rounds; it was once valued at $200m.
According to sources speaking to Axios, Apple is expected to have paid less than the $77m the startup raised in venture capital. It is also said to have hired Drive.ai staff from its engineering and product design departments, and took ownership of its fleet of self-driving vans. Drive.ai has reportedly been looking for someone to acquire it since at least February.