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Tim Cook says Apple is working on 'autonomous systems'

Apple's CEO kinda implies the company is developing self-driving car tech.
Jamie Rigg, @jmerigg
June 13, 2017
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Has Tim Cook made the first public admission that Apple is indeed working on self-driving car technology? Bloomberg seems to think so, based on comments made by the CEO in an interview at WWDC earlier this month. After remarking on the exciting automotive trends of self-driving cars, EVs and ride-sharing, Cook said: "What we're focusing on -- what we've talked about focusing on publicly -- is we're focusing on autonomous systems. And clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars. There are others, and we sorta see it as the mother of all AI projects. It's probably one of the most difficult AI projects, actually, to work on. And so autonomy is something that's incredible exciting for us, but we'll see where it takes us."

Make of that what you will. Cook talks around the subject, emphasizing Apple's work in AI and by extension, autonomy, rather than addressing anything directly. "We're not really saying from a product point of view what we will do, but we are being straight-forward that it's a core technology that we view as very important," Cook goes on to say. Let's just assume he's saying Apple is working on self-driving tech here, but isn't willing to commit to an actual vehicle coming from the company. That would jibe with a Bloomberg report from last year, which said Apple had abandoned car development and scaled so-called "Project Titan" back to focus on the backend technology.

All things considered, though, we don't really need Tim Cook to publicly acknowledge Apple's self-driving strategy in detail. Between high-profile hires, discussions with the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and seeking an autonomous car testing permit in California, the secret's been out for some time now. Most recently, an actual vehicle that's reportedly part of Apple's program was spotted in the wild, a few days prior to the company joining Tesla in suggesting changes in self-driving car policy to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Let's also not forget that Apple has pumped $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing darling Didi Chuxing, which happened to open an autonomous AI lab in Mountain View earlier this year. Tim Cook's latest comments are intentionally vague, but we don't really need Apple's CEO to make a formal announcement about a project that's so obviously well under way.

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