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A Definitive Ranking of Tech’s “Project Titans”

Just facts

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There have been a lot of great titans throughout history. The deities of Greek mythology. That one moon near Saturn. The plucky multiracial high school football team in Virginia that learned, thanks to the stern but compassionate guidance of Denzel Washington, that maybe we’re not so different after all.

With so many inspiring precedents, it’s no wonder tech companies have taken to code-naming their most ambitious projects “Titan.” In Silicon Valley parlance, a “Project Titan” is supposed to be a world-beating endeavor that redefines a company’s future. In reality, the secretive efforts (they’re always obnoxiously secretive) often shrivel into something more mundane.

Apple is the latest company to fall into the titan trap. Here’s a look at the prospects of its self-driving car initiative, and the fate of some of tech’s past Project Titans.

Google’s internet-by-drone program was kicked off via the acquisition of an aerospace startup which Facebook had also been interested in buying. The startup’s solar-powered aircraft can stay aloft for long stretches of time, providing internet connectivity to the humans below. An updated drone tested earlier this year could offer 5G connectivity in the future. Google also gets points because the startup’s name was actually Titan before the acquisition, so the hubris here isn’t as much Google’s fault. 4 out of 5 … Prometheuses? Prometheii? Let’s go with Prometheus busts.

Blizzard’s long-rumored follow-up to World of Warcraft, known simply as Titan, was trapped in development hell for years. Instead of continuing WoW’s fantasy theme, Titan was thought to be a sci-fi massive multiplayer online game depicting a global cold war in the near future, according to Kotaku. Despite pouring millions of dollars into the project, the developer could never “find the fun,” as Blizzard cofounder Mike Morhaime put it. Elements of the title were eventually used to create Overwatch, a team-based sci-fi shooter that earned glowing reviews. 3 out of 5 Prometheus busts

Apple’s custom-built electric cars were supposed to compete with Detroit automakers and tech companies like Google in the driverless future. The company hired hundreds of employees to build the vehicles and scouted hidden test tracks to operate them. But this week Bloomberg reported that hundreds of people on the project team have been laid off or reassigned, and the company has shifted focus to building autonomous car system software rather than a physical vehicle. Farewell to all of those wacky fan concept designs. 2 out 5 Prometheus busts

Nissan’s off-road Titan truck was subject to a crowdsourced redesign to take on the Alaskan wilderness as part of a promotional campaign in 2014. Voters tended to pick the most ’Merica option available: an extra-loud exhaust system, custom-installed subwoofers, and, of course, a camo-painted frame. Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer’s long-lost brother let him design a car for his auto company and it was a total monstrosity? That’s basically what happened here. 2 out of 5 Prometheus busts

Facebook’s email service was a Big Deal at one point, strangely enough. (Speaking of the project, the words “email killer” were used many times.) The initiative, launched in 2010, bestowed a totally unwanted @facebook.com email address on each of the social network’s 500 million users and launched a “social inbox” to collect emails, SMS texts, and Facebook messages in a single location. The project, shuttered in 2014, was a failure that proved for the thousandth time that no one is going to disrupt email because email works. 1 out of 5 Prometheus busts