July 10, 2017
Could the Apple Car be the next “must-have” Christmas gift? If Apple CEO Tim Cook has his way, it very well might. After years of strategically dodging the issue, in a recent interview with Bloomberg Television Cook admitted that the technology giant is actively moving forward with developing technology for self-driving or autonomous car systems.
Cook referred to Apple’s interest in autonomous systems as “the mother of all AI projects” and admitted that this is among the most difficult projects Apple has undertaken in its history. The company is focusing on developing core technology, which would be the software integration phase of autonomous driving vehicles; similar in many ways to what Israeli Mobileye currently produces with BMW. However, with Apple, and it’s expanding resources and existing mobile technology, the sky is virtually the limit.
The growth of autonomous cars and collaboration between software companies, automotive manufacturers, and part suppliers has grown significantly in 2017. In April, a partnership between Bosch and Daimler was announced, while two months later, BMW joined forces with Continental, Intel, and Mobileye on their self-driving car projects. Apple’s role, however, has yet to be determined; which is both a blessing and obstacle according to Cook.
According to the interview, Apple had visions of building its own branded self-driving vehicle. However, those aspirations were recalibrated last year due to the massive investment needed to see this project to fruition. In fact, the company that developed the iPhone hired more than 1,000 engineers to work on their “Project Titan” which was started in 2014. Apple veteran executive Bob Mansfield leads the new team and has even completed permits from the State of California DMV to test (3) self-driving SUV’s. In fact, many residents and media outlets of the San Francisco Bay-area have reported up to six vehicles driving around the bay area (with human occupants) in the past months.
In December of 2016, Apple’s Director of Product Integrity Steve Kenner contacted the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about Apple’s interest in automotive technology – including autonomous vehicles. In this letter, which was published on the Federal agencies website, Kenner stated that Apple was excited about the potential for developing automated systems in the transportation industry.
This opens an interesting discussion as to whether Apple is looking to enter commercial development of autonomous systems or consumer applications. The US commercial transportation industry alone is a $70 billion annual industry; with more than 80 percent of all commercial product distribution completed through truck freight way. Add these facts along with Apple’s $1 billion investment in Chinese rail-hauling service Didi
Apple has a history of creating solutions in markets actively needing innovative technology. With Intel, Mobileye and other software/hardware developers seemingly focused on consumer applications of AI integration for self-driving vehicles, it seems logical for Apple to join the autonomous vehicle marketplace in a huge commercial segment sooner rather than later.