Can A Waymo Engineer Help Apple’s Allegedly Behind-Schedule Autonomous Driving Project?

By Carl Velasco | Jun 16, 2018 09:32 AM EDT

Apple is beginning to acquire high-profile employees to help develop its self-driving software project, which reports say is already behind schedule at this point.

The Information reports that Apple has hired Jaime Waydo, who previously worked as a senior engineer at Waymo and was involved in the development of one of NASA's Mars rovers. An Apple spokesperson has since confirmed the hiring but didn't reveal what she would be working on inside the company.

Apple Hires Jaime Waydo

Waydo, who served as head of systems engineering at Waymo, is described by her colleagues as "instrumental," according to the report. She led safety verification for the company's prototypes and delivered input on when it was safe to launch on-the-road tests in Phoenix back in 2016. It's safe to assume she'll do similar work in Apple's turf.

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Waydo was also a senior engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for over 10 years, where she helped develop a vehicle that roamed Mars, as mentioned. The Information speculates that Waydo's hiring is indication that Apple's self-driving software project is progressing toward launching a prototype vehicle. Even so, the report also alleges that the project continues to suffer from a "lack of communication among teams."

What Are Apple's Self-Driving Plans, Exactly?

Apple's previous goal was to create a fully autonomous vehicle as part of Project Titan, but such plans have since been withdrawn and scaled back, with the company shifting to autonomous driving software instead. Current speculation claims Apple will lend car manufacturers this said software once complete; companies such as Lexus and Volkswagen are would-be recipients.

Time will tell if Waydo's expertise will propel Apple's project into more definite executions rather than just experiments and testing. It remains unclear, however, what she'll focus on: getting there fast, or getting there safely. Back in Waymo, as mentioned, she made sure self-driving vehicles were safe enough to hit the road. Her insistence on safety first may not change even if Apple wants to speed things up. But the company must have known that already — it chose to hire her, after all.

Will Apple Venture Into Ride-Hailing?

Overall, Apple's self-driving plans remain largely undetermined. Its long-term goal, as Apple Insider suggests, may be the ride-hailing market, but that would mean it's going to compete with heavyweights such as Uber and Lyft, which come with its own set of challenges. If it does choose this route, it's highly likely Apple will partner with third parties initially.

As it stands, the project is allegedly behind schedule and is consuming most of Apple's car division's time and efforts. Hopefully Waydo's addition helps orient and redirect the team's momentum.

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