CEO Tim Cook: Apple exploring self-driving cars

OK, Apple is officially working on self-driving cars.

CEO Tim Cook recently elaborated on the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant's plans in an interview with Bloomberg. “We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said in an interview during the Apple Worldwide developers Conference, published online Tuesday. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”

Cook was unsure whether Apple would build its own self-driving cars. “We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult A.I. projects actually to work on.”

With self-driving cars, electronic cars and ride-sharing, the automotive landscape has "three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame," Cook said.

Remember, Apple invested $1 billion in Didi, a ride-sharing company in China last year. And it also reportedly hired Dan Dodge, the former head of Blackberry's automotive software division, Bloomberg reported.

Apple had long been rumored to be at work on its own autonomous vehicle as part of an initiative called Project Titan, but the company had yet to officially confirm its plans. The company had hired more than 1,000 engineers as part of that initiative, Bloomberg reported. Then last year, Apple reportedly reduced the staffing of its non-confirmed car project, a move some considered a refocusing of the company's vision.

Two months ago, the California Department of Motor Vehicles added Apple to the list of applicants to test autonomous vehicles. And in December 2016, Apple sent a letter sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the Department of Transportation's Federal Automated Vehicles Policy and its desire to work with the agency on helping to define industry best practices.

"The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation," wrote Steve Kenner, Apple's director of product integrity, in the letter.

With dozens of companies working on self-driving cars, the Boston Consulting Group estimates the global market for fully autonomous vehicles could grow from $42 billion in 2024 to nearly $77 billion in 2035 (and 12 million fully autonomous vehicles in use by then).

Whether Apple's research into autonomous driving systems results in a car remains to be seen. It's an important core technology, Cook said. "We’ll see where it takes us," he said. "We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do."

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