Apple recently confirmed to Axios that it purchased the struggling self-driving car startup Drive.ai which was once valued at $200 million. Apple hired dozens of self-driving engineers in the process, suggesting that the iPhone maker hasn’t given up its autonomous driving project.
The deal comes after Drive.ai ceased operations and planned to close its doors this Friday. In a regulatory filing, Drive.ai general counsel Thomas Yih wrote that the startup will be cutting its CEO and other executives in the process of closing. However, in that same filing with California regulators, the company stated that its situation could change – leaving the door open for a possible acquisition.
“Drive.ai plans to close its Mountain View office by Friday. The cuts include chief executive officer, Bijit Halder, and its directors of finance and robotics,” a company official said in a June 12 letter sent to California’s Employment Development Department. The notice said the company’s situation could change “due to subsequent events beyond Drive.ai’s control or current knowledge,” wrote Thomas Yih, the company’s general counsel.
The self-driving company talked with multiple potential acquirers, but Apple ultimately won. Though the purchase price wasn’t disclosed, Apple was expected to pay less than the $77 million that Drive.ai raised in venture capital. In addition, Apple didn’t mention whether its deal included the engineers who were set to lose their jobs with Drive.ai.
According to a new report from the San Francisco Chronicle, Apple was “exploring a purchase” of Drive.ai just three weeks ago. The Cupertino, California, company is currently said to have hired five engineers from the startup, while four of the five are working on “special projects” at Apple, including data, systems, and software engineering, according to LinkedIn profiles.
Earlier this year, Apple’s autonomous vehicle team began its own round of layoffs as it cut over 200 employees from its Project Titan team due to what it called “restructuring.”
“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple,” the spokesperson said.
“We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever.”