Tim Cook is working on something big. The Apple CEO revealed some more information about the company’s ongoing autonomous car project — previous reports claim it is internally dubbed “Project Titan” — during the third quarter 2017 earnings call on Tuesday. Although the focus is on technology that can drive cars, it could lead to something all the more revolutionary.
Cook reiterated that Apple has “a large [autonomous systems] project going,” and it’s making “a big investment” in the technology, just two months after publicly confirming the project’s existence in an interview. It’s still unclear whether this project will lead to a full-fledged car or something less ambitious, but Cook hinted that the technology may prove useful in non-car applications.
During the Tuesday call, Antonio M. Sacconaghi, from Sanford C. Bernstein and Co., asked Cook if he could provide any more detail on the autonomous car project.
“Recently, you talked about how Apple is focusing on autonomous systems for automobiles, and there has been press reports that Apple has been testing autonomous vehicles for potentially up to a year,” Sacconaghi said. “I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about Apple’s interest in autonomous vehicles and whether self-driving is really likely to be Apple’s principal focus in the near to medium term.”
In terms of autonomous systems, what we’ve said is that we are very focused on autonomous systems from a core technology point of view. We do have a large project going and are making a big investment in this. From our point of view, autonomy is the mother of all A.I. projects, and the autonomous systems can be used in a variety of ways, and a vehicle is only one. But there are many different areas of it, and I don’t want to go any further with that. But thank you for the question.
The idea that Apple could revolutionize the car industry as it did with the smartphone and MP3 player markets has excited fans, leading some to produce mockup videos of what the car could look like.
Cook’s comments follow on from previous remarks that suggest Apple is keeping its options open.
“Autonomy is something that’s incredibly exciting for us, but we’ll see where it takes us,” Cook told Bloomberg in June. “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.”
Apple will need to tread carefully to avoid overstretching itself. An October report claimed that Apple has completely ditched previous plans for a self-driving car, and instead opted for an autonomous driving system for other manufacturers to incorporate. The rumor was met with a frosty reception, with tech bloggers decrying Apple for abandoning the most compelling aspect of the project.
“Killing the Apple car, and turning it into a piece of software, eliminates the most compelling aspect of the project: the fact that it would have been an Apple vehicle,” Daniel Howley, editor at Yahoo Tech, said in response to the October report.
It’s possible that Apple’s approach may resemble Mobileye and Comma.ai, two companies set on developing the software to power autonomous cars. Mobileye has inked deals with Volkswagen and BMW to incorporate its mapping capabilities into cars, vital data that will help future cars understand their position. Tesla used to use Mobileye tech for its vehicles but switched to an in-house solution last October.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, previously suggested he’s not against Apple joining the race.
Unfortunately for Musk, it seems Cook has yet to make the switch to electric vehicles himself. In 2016, he was spotted driving a gas-powered BMW 5 Series. Perhaps he’ll change his mind when the Apple car project comes to fruition.Photos via Getty Images / Drew Angerer