December 9, 2021 11:54:33 am
Apple Inc.’s self-driving car project has lost three key engineers in recent weeks, adding to a rash of departures from a tumultuous business with daunting ambitions.
Eric Rogers, billed as Apple’s chief engineer for radar systems on the project, left for flying-taxi startup Joby Aviation Inc. in recent weeks. Alex Clarabut, an engineering manager for the team’s battery systems group, joined Archer Aviation Inc., another company working to develop air taxis.
Stephen Spiteri, an Apple hardware engineering manager, left to join Archer as well. Joby and Archer confirmed the appointments, which underscore a push by aviation startups to nab Silicon Valley talent. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.
The exodus shows the challenges Apple faces in expands into a new industry. A self-driving car could represent a massive new sales opportunity for the tech giant — one of its famous “next big things” — but perfecting such technology has bedeviled engineers for years. And the seven-year-old project has been marked by frequent turnover and strategy shifts, along with rivals poaching its talent.
The latest defections follow the loss of at least six members of the project’s management team this year, including its former head, Doug Field. A key recent departure was Michael Schwekutsch, who had led hardware engineering for the effort. Schwekutsch also joined Archer, where he serves as a senior vice president.
Other former employees have joined car startups such as Rivian Automotive Inc., an Irvine, California-based automaker that held the year’s biggest initial public offering last month.
At the same time, Apple has made some key hires this year. That includes Urlich Kranz, who previously led self-driving car startup Canoo and electric vehicle development at BMW, and CJ Moore, a former self-driving software director at Tesla Inc.
The radar systems that Rogers oversaw are a key aspect of a self-driving car: They allow the vehicle to operate and understand where it is on streets. Radar technology differs from cameras, which Tesla uses for its self-driving car technology.
Apple also is planning a battery system for its car that can tap into combined charging system, or CCS, a platform that’s currently expanding globally.
Field, the project’s former boss, become a senior executive at Ford Motor Co. The other managers hitting the exits included Dave Scott, Jaime Waydo, Dave Rosenthal and Benjamin Lyon.
Kevin Lynch, who oversees the Apple Watch and health software, took over the car project after Field left. He has sought to give the effort a clearer vision and more urgency, which includes a push to launch a fully self-driving car as early as 2025. The idea is to eschew pedals and a steering wheel, with an interior similar to a limousine, Bloomberg News has reported.