Apple CEO Tim Cook believes driverless cars ‘the mother of all AI projects’
Apple has shed new light on its top-secret driverless car project, as chief executive Tim Cook described the challenge of building autonomous vehicles as “the mother of all” artificial intelligence projects.
Cook said Apple was ploughing resources into developing technology to control driverless vehicles , although he refused to rule out the Silicon Valley firm building its own car at some point. The Apple boss spoke as shares in his company and other US tech firms came under pressure this week amid investor concerns that a sector-wide boom is losing steam.
Cook attempted to restore faith in Apple’s ability to strike out into new territory by giving his most detailed comments yet about a car venture that has been shrouded in secrecy.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” said Cook in an interview with Bloomberg TV . “Clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars. There are others. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI [artificial intelligence] projects.” He added: “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.”
When reports of Apple’s interest in cars started to emerge in the media, it was initially thought that the company was going to challenge the automotive giants of Detroit, which are racing to build their own self-driving cars .
But the spectrum of Apple’s ambitions narrowed last year after Apple veteran Bob Mansfield was put in charge of the programme, dubbed Project Titan.
While Cook was cagey about how Project Titan will evolve, his comments suggest that Apple’s primary focus is on AI technology that could be sold or adapted for use in other industries.
“We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do, but we are being straightforward that it’s a core technology that we view as very important,” said Cook.
David Bailey, a motor industry expert at Aston University in Birmingham, said Apple’s ability to come up with user-friendly products, such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod, could give it an edge over rivals.
“They can offer a number of things such as the software systems that enable the tech to function but also making that extremely friendly for a passenger in a way that other tech companies haven’t been able to do.”
He added: “Autonomous systems can open up mobility to people who don’t use cars but it needs to be accessible and user-friendly. Apple’s expertise is in that area, they have a knack of making something intuitively very easy to use.”
Dr Nick Reed, academy director at transport research group TRL, said Apple was smart to focus on technology rather than going head-to-head with car manufacturers.
“It would be difficult for them to revolutionise the production of cars but in use and operations, there’s a great opportunity. Their strength is in integration with digital lifestyle – a seamless experience, whether it’s at home, on your desktop, or your smartphone or now in your car.”
One analyst said Apple may have abandoned plans to build a car after realising it was lagging behind Detroit-based rivals.
“They were slow to begin testing autonomous systems, and they now have a considerable innovation gap to close,” said James Hodgson of tech consultancy ABI Research. “Previous attempts by Apple to address personal mobility and automation have been marred by high turnover in specialist staff.”
Referring to reports that Apple had attempted to form alliances with two German carmakers, Hodgson added: “In addition, previous talks with BMW and Daimler allegedly broke down over data protection and control. It seems Apple has decided that developing their own autonomous system is preferable to partnering.”
Silicon Valley’s other behemoth, Google parent company Alphabet, has also shifted the focus of its driverless vehicle plans towards technology for installation in cars built by established automotive firms.
The company’s Waymo division confirmed on Monday it is phasing out its “Firefly” bubble car and has instead sought to highlight its partnership on the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.
YooJung Ahn, lead industrial designer and Jaime Waydo, lead systems engineer for Waymo, said in a blogpost : “Now that we’ve moved to our next phase – letting members of the public use our self-driving cars in their daily lives – we’re ready to retire our fleet of Fireflies and focus on integrating our latest technology into vehicles like our new self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan.”