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商业 - 科技

苹果正在秘密研发这项技术

Mark Gurman,彭博社 2019年12月26日

苹果公司的一个团队正在研究一种卫星技术,可以绕过无线网络将数据发送到设备上。

图片来源:JOSE LUIS STEPHENS / EYEEM FOR GETTY

据知情人士透露,手机制造商苹果的一个秘密团队正在研究卫星技术,该技术可以绕过无线网络,直接向设备发送互联网服务。

上述要求匿名的知情人士表示,位于加州库比蒂诺的苹果公司有来自航空航天、卫星和天线设计领域的十余名工程师参与这个项目,他们的目标是在五年内完成项目成果部署。该项目仍然处于早期阶段,中途可能会被中断,而且卫星开发的明确方向和用途还没有最终确定。尽管如此,苹果的首席执行官蒂姆·库克对该项目表现出了兴趣,表示这是公司的优先事项。

苹果在通信卫星和下一代无线技术领域的研发努力说明,其目标可能是向用户设备发送数据,以减轻对无线运营商的依赖,或在没有传统网络的情况下实现设备连接。苹果还可以通过对卫星领域的探索,更精准地追踪苹果设备的定位,从而改进苹果地图,开发新功能。

目前还不清楚苹果公司是打算自己进行耗资巨大的卫星群开发,还是仅仅利用地面设备将现有卫星的数据发送到移动设备上。全球最大的卫星制造商包括诺斯罗普·格鲁曼公司、洛克希德·马丁公司和波音公司等。苹果发言人拒绝置评。

亚马逊公司计划在未来部署3000多颗卫星,作为其卫星星群的一部分。然而,这个行业充满了失败的案例。1999年,铱星公司申请破产保护;十几年前,泰利迪斯放弃了“空中互联网”计划。新近投身于该领域的Facebook、SpaceX和亚马逊离实现创收还有很长的路要走,而苹果很少在没有明确赚钱路径的情况下进入新领域。

卫星专家、TMF Associates的负责人蒂姆·法勒说:“铱星公司、全球星和泰利迪斯这些公司的失败教训表明,耗资数十亿美元的卫星通信项目很难找到可行的商业计划。”

最近几个月,苹果开始为该团队招聘新的软硬件专家,寻找有通信设备组件设计经验的工程师。该公司还专门从航空航天和无线数据传输领域招聘了高管。

该团队由迈克尔·特里拉和约翰·芬威克领导,他们曾经是航空工程师,曾在卫星成像公司Skybox Imaging 2014年卖给谷歌前协助管理公司。彭博新闻社当时报道,两人曾经在谷歌主管卫星和宇宙飞船业务,直到2017年一起离开,开始在苹果从事新项目。

迈克尔·特里拉和约翰·芬威克在苹果头一年半的时间里,探索了开发卫星技术的可行性,弄明白了他们想要解决的问题。最近几个月,他们已经开始加速推进。今年早些时候,该项目遭遇了一些挫折,因为项目的前任领导、2016年入职的格雷格·达菲离开了苹果公司。达菲是2014年被谷歌收购的摄影类创业公司Dropcam的联合创始人,其直属上司是苹果公司的硬件工程高级副总裁丹·里奇奥。

达菲的领英资料显示,他曾经从事涉及“卫星通信、无线和家庭产品/技术”的项目。他拒绝评论自己在苹果的具体工作。

特里拉和芬威克仍然在苹果的硬件工程部工作,他们的直属领导是里奇奥负责iPhone工程的副手。

熟悉该团队的人士说,该团队最近增加了来自无线行业的人员,其中包括工程师马特·艾特斯,协助领导该项目。艾特斯是无线技术领域最响亮的几个名字之一,曾经创立艾特斯研究公司,该公司为美国国家仪器公司所有,主要销售无线网络设备。

苹果还聘请了艾西利·摩尔·威廉姆斯和丹尼尔·埃利斯,前者曾经长期担任主营通信卫星业务的航空航天公司的高管,后者曾经在奈飞担任高管,主管公司的内容发布网络(Content Delivery Network,简称CDN)。埃利斯在建立能够在全球范围内进行内容和信息传播的网络方面经验丰富。

卫星技术是苹果公司正在进行的几个“特殊项目”之一。苹果公司的“特殊项目”指的是正在进行中的“臭鼬工厂”项目或重要新产品的开发。

彭博社此前曾经报道,苹果正在研发的还包括:最早将于2021年上市的虚拟现实耳机、将在此之后推出的增强现实眼镜、用于未来新产品的MicroLED屏幕、新的家居产品、无人驾驶汽车技术以及能够分析用户的血液化学成分以确定其血糖水平的新苹果手表。苹果还在扩大其自主芯片的研发,以期取代其Mac电脑处理器制造商英特尔,以及手机调制解调器组件供应商英特尔和高通。

苹果公司的文件显示,在库克的领导下,苹果迅速扩大了研发预算,2019财年支出了160亿美元,较上年增长14%。苹果的主要目标之一是,更多地自主完成其产品背后的技术,这也是卫星技术最终要实现的目标。(财富中文网)

译者:Agatha

Apple has a secret team working on satellite technology that the iPhone maker could use to beam internet services directly to devices, bypassing wireless networks, according to people familiar with the work.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based iPhone maker has about a dozen engineers from the aerospace, satellite, and antenna design industries working on the project with the goal of deploying their results within five years, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company efforts. Work on the project is still early and could be abandoned, the people said, and a clear direction and use for satellites hasn’t been finalized. Still, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has shown interest in the project, indicating it’s a company priority.

Apple’s work on communications satellites and next-generation wireless technology means the aim is likely to beam data to a user’s device, potentially mitigating the dependence on wireless carriers, or for linking devices together without a traditional network. Apple could also be exploring satellites for more precise location tracking for its devices, enabling improved maps and new features.

It’s not clear if Apple intends to pursue the costly development of a satellite constellation itself or simply harness on-the-ground equipment that would take data from existing satellites and send it to mobile devices. Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing are some of the biggest satellite makers. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Amazon plans to deploy more than 3,000 satellites as part of a future constellation. However, the industry is littered with failures. Iridium filed for bankruptcy protection in 1999, and Teledesic abandoned its “internet from the sky” plan more than a decade ago. Newer efforts from Facebook, SpaceX, and Amazon are a long way from generating revenue, and Apple rarely enters new categories without a clear way to make money.

“The lessons of prior failures like Iridium, Globalstar, and Teledesic are that it’s really hard to find a viable business plan for multibillion-dollar satellite communications projects,” said Tim Farrar, a satellite expert and principal at TMF associates.

In recent months, Apple has started hiring new software and hardware experts for the team, seeking engineers with experience in designing components for communications equipment. The company has also hired additional executives from the aerospace and wireless data delivery fields.

The team is led by Michael Trela and John Fenwick, former aerospace engineers who helped lead satellite imaging company Skybox Imaging before it sold to Google in 2014. The pair led Google’s satellite and spacecraft operations until leaving together in 2017 to begin a new initiative at Apple, Bloomberg News reported at the time.

During their first year and a half at Apple, Trela and Fenwick explored the feasibility of developing satellite technology and understanding the problem they want to solve, and in recent months have started intensifying work on the project. The effort suffered a setback earlier this year when its previous leader, Greg Duffy, left Apple after joining in 2016. Duffy, the co-founder of camera startup Dropcam, which Google acquired in 2014, reported to Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering.

On his LinkedIn profile, Duffy said he worked on projects involving “satellite communications, wireless, and home products/technologies.” He declined to comment more specifically on his work at Apple.

Trela and Fenwick still work within Apple’s hardware engineering division, but now report to Riccio’s lieutenant in charge of iPhone engineering.

The team has recently added people from the wireless industry, including engineer Matt Ettus, who now helps lead the initiative, people familiar with the team said. Ettus is one of the foremost names in wireless technologies and created Ettus Research, a National Instruments-owned firm that sells wireless networking equipment.

Apple has also hired Ashley Moore Williams, a longtime executive from Aerospace Corp. who focused on communication satellites, and Daniel Ellis, a former Netflix executive who helped oversee the company’s Content Delivery Network, or CDN. Ellis has experience in building networks that can beam content and information on a global scale.

The work on satellite technology is one of several “special projects”—an Apple term for skunkworks initiatives or development of major new product categories—under way at the company.

As Bloomberg has previously reported, Apple also is working on a virtual reality headset to debut as early as 2021, augmented reality glasses for launch after that, MicroLED screens for future devices, new home products, self-driving car technology and a future Apple Watch that can analyze a user’s blood chemistry to determine glucose levels. Apple is also expanding its in-house chip development, seeking to replace Intel as its Mac processor maker, and Intel and Qualcomm as the providers of its modem component for phones.

Under Cook, Apple has rapidly expanded its research and development budget, spending $16 billion in the 2019 fiscal year, an increase of 14% from the prior year, according to company filings. One of Apple’s primary goals is to bring more of the technology behind its products in house, which is what work on satellites could eventually enable.

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