Tim Cook admitted Apple is working on building the brains for autonomous cars

What’s the plan?
What’s the plan?
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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In an interview with Bloomberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke publicly for the first time about the company’s work in autonomous vehicles. Apple is traditionally very tight-lipped about projects that it’s working on before they’re ready for release, but a string of reports dating back to early 2015, as well as more recent public fillings have suggested that the company had something connected to self-driving cars in the works.

Cook did not explicitly lay out Apple’s plans, but he spoke of “three vectors of change” that are set to disrupt the auto industry—self-driving cars, electric cars, and ride-sharing companies—and he did say that his company is focusing on “autonomous systems.”

“Clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars—there are others,” Cook said, “and we sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects—it’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”

Apple has had, perhaps as a result of AI advances from competitors such as Google and Amazon, a recent push in its work on artificial intelligence, and it was one of the core topics that it discussed at its annual developer conference in San Jose, California, last week. The company opened up new capabilities for computer vision and machine learning on its devices to developers, and it has started to publish public research, as well as host meetings with other AI heavyweights.

Where this will actually all lead is unclear. Apple is testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in California right now, but there’s no indication as to how far along its research is, and Cook’s wording seems to suggest the company is focusing on the technology that controls an autonomous vehicle, rather than building a vehicle itself.

And perhaps Apple is actually focusing on something entirely different—as Cook said, cars are just one of many things that can benefit from operating on their own. ”Autonomy is incredibly exciting for us, but we’ll see where it takes us,” Cook said in the interview. “We’re not really saying for a product point of view what we will do, but where we are being straightforward is that it’s a core technology that we view as very important.”

Maybe instead of an Apple car hitting dealerships in the future, we’ll be seeing an Apple Roomba, an Apple drone, or an Apple R2-D2.