‘We’re focussing on autonomous systems’ : Tim Cook confirms Apple’s long secretive autonomous vehicle project

14 Jun

By Deepanshu Khandelwal, The Tech Portal

For years, Apple has kept its autonomous car plans under wraps. And while there have been a few breaking stories here and there on various tech media platforms regarding the same, an official word from Apple on the same has never come out.

Until now.

In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg, that happened on June 5th, Apple CEO Tim Cook agreed and in fact elaborated on Apple’s autonomous systems. He further laid stress, that since car projects form a major part of these systems, thus Apple is indeed working on the same and we could see some tests happening soon.

In Cook’s own words,

We are working on autonomous car systems and clearly, one purpose of autonomous drive systems is autonomous car. There are others. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects.

Apart from autonomous car projects in particular, Apple is also working on a host of other AI projects. But clearly, autonomous car systems is a major focus by some distance, made apparent by Cook, via his remarks.

Apple’s autonomous car project has been a long kept secret. However, we’ve had glimpses of the technology and the fact that Apple is working on such a thing, both from leaks and official Apple news.

For example, a couple of months back, there were reports wherein folks had sighted the test vehicle currently being used by Apple to test its technology. The clip came after a major report, that Apple isn’t planning to jump in by designing its own car, but will instead develop its own technology (very much like Google) and tie-up with third party car makers to install the same. The car spotted as the test bed was a Lexus SUV, fitted with all sorts of 3rd party hardware. You can read more about the spotting, here.

Post that, Apple was among a list of manufacturers and tech companies, granted permission in California, to test its autonomous fleet. The list included the likes of Volkswagen’s American subsidiary, Tesla, Google, Mercedes among others.

According to another report, the Cupertino giant has also developed its own driver training document, to train drivers who will be testing its self driving test vehicles. The failsafe technology used for these tests is called “Apple Automated System” in the document.

According to the documents, Apple drivers are required to pass seven different tests. Each safety driver has two practice runs and three trials to pass each test. They need to be ready to take manual control of the vehicle.

Apple has applied for a permit for six drivers to drive three Lexus RX450h SUVs. Apple’s drivers who are named in the application, are mostly Ph.Ds specializing in machine learning. Few of them have also previously worked for companies like Bosch and Tesla.

Apple’s plans came into highlight last December, when Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, scribed a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealing the company’s interest in automotive technology. It became public when it was published on a federal website. In the letter, Kenner wrote about the company’s excitement surrounding the potential for automated systems in fields like transportation.