Tim Cook Hints Apple May Be Making Autonomous Systems for More Than Just Cars

But he didn't say what else Apple is trying to automate.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Stops By Hour Of Code Workshop Event Within Apple Store
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently confirmed that the tech giant is working on autonomous-driving systems, and alleged Apple test cars are roaming the streets of Silicon Valley. But Apple may be working on more than just autonomous cars.

"[Autonomous] systems can be used in a variety of ways," The Verge reported Cook as saying during an investor call. "A vehicle is only one, but there are many different areas of it. And I don't want to go any further with that."

Autonomous systems have many potential applications beyond cars. Norway is investigating autonomous ships as a way to take trucks off its roads. Uber is looking to automate commercial trucks, and electric bus maker Proterra plans to test autonomous buses. Beyond conventional vehicles, similar technology could lead to smarter and more capable drones, or a new generation of robots. A drone delivery system seems to have become something of an obsession for Amazon, which has also shown interest in autonomous delivery trucks.

Cook confirmed the existence of Apple's autonomous-driving project in June, calling it the "mother of all AI projects." The Apple CEO hasn't discussed the project in any real detail, but has said the company views it both as an important facet of the emerging AI field, and a contributor to major potential disruption in the auto industry. Like many other businesspeople, Cook reportedly believes the combination of autonomous driving, electric powertrains, and ride sharing will have an impact greater than each factor would individually.

Notably missing from all of Cook's statements on autonomous driving: any indication Apple will build its own car. The company has never said anything publicly about entering the car business, but the idea of an "Apple Car" has created a lot of excitement over the years.

It's possible that Apple will only develop the tech to enable autonomous driving, and then market it to automakers. That would be a much easier route than undertaking the expensive and complicated process of building its own car. Several other tech companies, including Waymo and Intel, have forged partnerships with automakers instead of going it alone.