In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg held on the sidelines of Apple’s WWDC 2017 event last week, Tim Cook, in his most forthcoming terms yet, outlined what Apple is working to accomplish in the automotive space. While the iPhone-maker has been rumored to have a team of as many as 1,000 experts and engineers working on its self-driving car — as part of a secretive effort internally dubbed Project Titan — Cook confirmed that his company has in fact shifted its concentration towards developing the underlying AI-based software and technology that powers autonomous automobiles.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said in his June 5 interview, which aired on Bloomberg Television, adding “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”
Apple was previously rumored to be developing an actual self-driving car, which would have competed with offerings currently in development by entities like Ford, GM, and BMW, for example however a number of factors, including ballooning costs and increasing competition, ultimately prompted the company to refocus its efforts on prioritizing development of the underlying technology, rather than a physical car. Bloomberg was first to report on Apple’s decision to refocus its efforts on self-driving car technology last October — however this is the first time we’re hearing it come straight from Tim Cook himself.
Cook’s confession aired amid a series of recent reports that lend further credence to Apple’s ongoing autonomous car efforts, including a permit the company was granted by the State of California DMV back in April allowing it to test self-driving cars on open roads, and a letter that was submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by Apple’s Director of product integrity, Steve Kenner, last December — within which he requested that the agency loosen up its regulations to better accommodate newcomers (like Apple) in the autonomous car space.
Cook noted several factors that could play into what he believes is a “major disruption” that’s looming in the automotive industry, citing the broader development of self-driving technology by automotive leaders and newcomers, alike, the increasing availability and affordability of electric vehicles, and the increasing popularity of ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber.
“You’ve got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame,” Cook said, noting Apple’s own investment of $1 billion in China’s largest ride-sharing firm, Didi Chuxing, last year.
Still, even though Apple has significantly whittled down its Project Titan team in recent months as it refocuses on software and AI-based car systems, Cook, in his Bloomberg interview, seemed hesitant to outright deny that Apple would never seek to develop a self-driving car.
“We’ll see where it takes us,” Cook said about his company’s new direction with Project Titan, while adding “We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.”