Apple CEO Tim Cook finally confirmed what the automotive world was certain it already knew: Apple is working on an autonomous vehicle and has been for some time.
The prospect of a viable autonomous vehicle has drawn significant interest – and investement – from automotive and technology companies, particularly in the last five years. While the automakers have been fairly transparent about their plans, as has tech giant Google, Apple’s been very quiet about its efforts.
However, the program, nicknamed Project Titan, is out in the open now.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook told Bloomberg Television. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.” He likened the effort to “the mother of all AI projects,” saying it’s “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”
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Now the question is what is the company doing?
“Apple has long been the wild card in the autonomous car game,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader. “Now we know Apple is all in, and, judging by its track record in other areas, it will be a force. Apple’s strategy to commercialize autonomous vehicles remains to be seen – will they partner and sell the technology or actually develop their own vehicles?”
Cook didn’t help out much on this point, failing to reveal much about the company’s plans. Although he did offer one helpful nugget of knowledge: the company hasn’t settled the question of whether it will focus on building just the autonomous system or the entire vehicle.
“We’ll see where it takes us,” Cook said. “We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.”
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Until now, Apple’s efforts in the automotive arena have centered on supportive systems, such as Apple CarPlay, which uses a vehicle’s existing infrastructure to offer users – essentially – an in-car version of their iPhones, allowing them do everything they can do on their phones: play music, hear and respond to text messages and use navigation.
Given the company’s success with its automotive applications thus far, it has reason to feel good about the potential outcome of its autonomous vehicle program, especially how it will interface with other product trends in the auto industry.
“There is a major disruption looming there,” Cook said on Bloomberg Television, talking about autonomous vehicle technology, electric vehicles and ride-hailing. “You’ve got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame.”
Though Cook was excited about the prospects for the technical revolution that is sweeping the auto industry, he equally effusive in his praise of electric vehicles during the interview.
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“It’s a marvelous experience not to stop at the filling station or the gas station,” Cook said.