Struggling Drive.AI Finally Acquired By Apple

The small AI startup Drive.AI founded in 2015 with the goal of adding to the growing market of self-driving vehicles, has been acquired by Apple after it recently came close to shutting down.

Apple’s plans to purchase Drive.AI originated around 3 weeks ago (more of that in Anthony’s article here), with the main motivation being that Apple was interested in working with the machine learning researchers from Stanford University that were behind most of Drive.AI’s breakthroughs. Now that the researchers work for Apple they will likely be working on the secretive TITAN project.

Although Drive.AI may have been struggling recently the firm was in a completely different position one year ago. Since its conception, it appeared to be one of the largest players in the self-driving car field. The firm's fame came from using deep learning to recognize and avoid objects on the road. Drive.ai made the news last year when it conducted fixed-route tests with its autonomous vehicles without human drivers on real roads. However fast forward to today and the San Francisco Chronicle reported Drive.ai filed a notice with the state indicating its intention to close permanently and fire 90 employees.

Typical Drive.AI self-driving car

Typical Drive.AI self-driving car

The startup was known for its army of bright orange Nissan with hints of blue and “self-driving vehicle” imprinted on its side. A key characteristic of their self-driving car as opposed to rivals, was the LED screens (one the hood, sides and back) that could display messages to increase safety and comfort of cars and pedestrians round it. The screens displayed messages to the pedestrians such as “going“, “entering“ or “waiting“.

Although Apple bought all of Drive.AI’s assets it may have not hired all of its workers and a large portion of the employees may end up being flayed off. The most probable reason Drive.AI failed was due to the giants it had as competition in the field, massive firms like Google and Tesla have been pouring millions into self-driving research, and have managed to lower costs and promise investors full deployment sooner than any company the size of Drive.AI could deliver.

Although experts agree the full deployment of self-driving vehicles will take years, if not decades, to manifest the future of this field seems to be in the larger firms rather than the innovative startups. This trend is strengthened as the biggest car manufacturers have also started pouring money into this field.