Just last week, I called bullshit on the 2025 launch date for the rumored Apple Car. I say rumored as Apple has never publicly confirmed that they are actually making an autonomous electric vehicle.
One of the issues I raised is that Apple hiring Christofer “CJ” Moore, previous director for Tesla’s Autopilot software, is not necessarily a sign of project progress. Apple’s had a revolving door for staff retention at Project Titan.
Therefore I wasn’t surprised to hear this week that three Project Titan employers have left Apple. Even better, they’ve departed for the sunnier skies of eVTOLs, as in electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
Eric Rogers, the former Apple chief engineer for radar systems, is now radar engineering lead at Joby Aviation. Alex Clarabut went from hardware engineering manager at project Titan to engineering manager of battery systems at Archer Aviation. He’s joined by former hardware engineering manager at Apple, Stephen Spiteri, who is now Archer’s power electronics manager.
Why move from Apple ‘iCar’ into aviation?
So why the shift to aviation? While I’m not a tea leaf reader when analyzing people’s career shifts, I have a few thoughts.
Let’s face it, if you want to work on the next mode of transport (considering I’m not counting on a hyperloop going live anytime soon), my bets are on vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft (or hydrogen VTOLs).
2021 has been an excellent year for eVTOL funding with Archer aviation, Joby, and their competitor Lilium, going public through special purpose acquisition companies aka SPACs. While the numbers weren’t necessarily as high as anticipated, they still retain strong market interest.
Earlier this year, United Airlines placed an order for $1 billion of Archer’s aircraft with the option to buy additional ones for $500 million of aircraft.
Further, if we talk about personnel bringing valuable expertise and experience, I’m equally interested in the appointment of Paul Rinaldi.
He’s a former President of the National Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (NATCA), to Joby’s Advisory Board.
His appointment is a huge boon in terms of certification, scaling manufacturing, and laying the groundwork for planned initial passenger operations in 2024.
Specialist skills accelerate time to market
It’s been a cat and mouse game between Joby and Archer as to who will be the first to receive FAA eVTOL certification.
Last week, Archer announced it had achieved a Special Airworthiness Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) covering its Maker demonstrator aircraft. This is the final threshold to begin off-ground operations. Thus, Archer remains on track to conduct its first hover flight test in the coming weeks.
Given the momentum we’re seeing in eVTOLs, it might not be that surprising talented people are jumping on the bandwagon. We’ll likely see them take the skies in next two to three years, although most likely just for cargo at first.
But that definitely supersedes any Apple car timelines — if we ever see a car at all. So changing teams makes sense.