Apple CEO Sheds Light On How Company Views Autonomous Vehicles

Apple CEO Tim Cook says the tech giant may or may not manufacture its own self-driving car, but it does sees the technology as the “mother of all AI projects.”

During an interview with Bloomberg Television filmed on June 5, Cook shed some light on a subject that’s been shrouded in mystery over the past couple of years.

Apple has been investing heavily in artificial intelligence used in products like the Apple Watch. Autonomous vehicles has been one of the technologies gaining Apple investments and bringing in a lot of highly paid talent – but the company has been secretive about it.

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”

It’s central to Apple’s mission going forward, but it’s an extremely challenging technology to gain a foothold in, he said.

“We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” Cook said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.”

Cook said that for Silicon Valley companies, autonomous vehicles is one of three that has to be taken on – the other two being electric vehicles and ride-hailing services.

“You’ve got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame,” he said.

The Apple CEO is optimistic about the future of EVs. Apple has watched one if Silicon Valley neighbors, Tesla, surge into the center of EVs and become the world’s fourth largest automaker by market capitalization as its’ stock price continues to increase.

He is fascinated with the EV driving experience.

“It’s a marvelous experience not to stop at the filling station or the gas station,” Cook said.

Apple held back on comments during news coverage of Project Titan, which was said to be an electric autonomous car that the company was planning on manufacturing. The tech giant had hired more than 1,000 engineers to work on Project Titan after starting it up in 2014.

Apple veteran Bob Mansfield was brought back in during 2016 to run the self-driving car unit, which led to more speculation about the company’s role in the technology.

In April, the company was granted permits to test three self-driving SUVs by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. A half dozen autonomous vehicles had been tested on public roads in the San Francisco bay area for at least a year, according to a source familiar with Project Titan.

In December a letter sent by Apple to the to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed more on the company’s interest and enthusiasm in automated systems that could be used in vehicles.

The Silicon Valley company demonstrated its interest and enthusiasm in the third cutting-edge AI vector, ride hailing, last year. In May 2016, Apple invested $1 billion in China’s largest ride-hailing firm, Didi Chuxing.

Didi had been in cutthroat competition for business in China against ride-hailing giant Uber. In July of last year, Uber agreed to pull out of the market and stop competing with Didi for $1 billion.

Prior to that deal, Mansfield had laid off hundreds of engineers on Project Titan. It appeared that the company was scaling back its plans from being a vehicle manufacturer over to building an autonomous driving system.

SEE ALSO: Apple May Partner With Bosch On Autonomous Electric Drive

Google appears to have gone that route as well, testing it self-driving system and making deals with automakers and other partners such as ride-hailing firm Lyft.

It could go either way, though.

Apple will make an announcement later this year on its role in autonomous vehicle systems, and whether that will include manufacturing these cars, according to people familiar with the matter.

During the Bloomberg Television interview, Cook held back on answering that question.

“We’ll see where it takes us,” he said. “We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.”

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