Tim Cook Confirms Existence of Apple's Autonomous Driving Project

Apple CEO Tim Cook called autonomous driving the "mother of all AI projects."

Apple CEO Tim Cook Stops By Hour Of Code Workshop Event Within Apple Store
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After much speculation, Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed the tech giant is working on autonomous driving. But Cook said Apple's work is limited to autonomous driving systems, and that the company isn't working on an actual car.

"We're focusing on autonomous systems," Cook said in a recent Bloomberg interview, adding that "it's a core technology that we view as very important." It's the first time the Apple CEO has discussed the company's autonomous-car research in any detail, although many questions remain.

Cook views a system that enables autonomous driving as a major technical challenge, calling it "the mother of all AI projects." It's notably more realistic than statements from executives at other companies developing autonomous driving tech, many of whom seem to take for granted that the technology will arrive soon. Several automakers have set aggressive targets for deploying self-driving cars in the next few years.

Regarding Apple's own plans for launching a self-driving car, Cook was noncommittal. He told Bloomberg that "we'll see where it takes us," adding that "we're not really saying from a product point of view what we will do."

Rumors have an Apple self-driving car have been rampant in recent years, set off by reports that Apple had hired engineers with relevant experience for something known as "Project Titan." While Apple never said anything publicly about the project, the media and the public became enchanted with the idea of an "Apple Car," leading to mass speculation about things like an electric powertrain and game-changing infotainment system.

However, very little is actually known about Apple's intentions. The self-driving car program's existence was only recently confirmed through government filings. In April, Apple received permits to test self-driving cars on public roads in California, and its modified Lexus RX test mules have been spotted a handful of times. Apple also submitted comments on proposed changes to California's self-driving car rules.

Apple is interested in self-driving cars for largely the same reasons as other companies, according to Cook. He told Bloomberg that the combination of autonomous driving, electric powertrains, and ride sharing will constitute a "major disruption." It's a common belief in both the automotive and tech industries that those three trends will reinforce each other.

It's still unclear what Apple's plan is, but the company certainly has a lot of muscle to throw behind self-driving cars. But while Apple is often viewed as a leader when it comes to consumer electronics, it's just one of many players in the self-driving car game. An array of automakers, suppliers, and tech companies are already working to make autonomous vehicles a reality. Rather than leading the way, Apple will have to work hard to catch up to them.