Apple Hints At Autonomous Tech Beyond Just Self-Driving Cars

The ongoing saga of Apple's future autonomous project took another turn this week. CEO Tim Cook brought up in a shareholders' meeting that we shouldn't look at just vehicles when it comes to autonomy, and that could mean many things.


May 23 2019, Updated 4:22 p.m. ET

Apple has been working on autonomous technology for quite some time, but they’ve never unveiled a major project using it. In a conference call with investors earlier this week, company CEO Tim Cook expressed that people shouldn’t be limited to the technology being in vehicles. Considering how innovative Apple can be, that message could mean anything.

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Back in early June, Cook finally expanded on Apple’s plans for autonomy in an interview with Bloomberg. There’s been many years of speculation and rumors after 1,000 employees were signed on to Project Titan back in 2014. It had potential to be the new Apple Car, or “iCar.” Those visions changed when Apple decided to work on just the technology itself.

Now, it seems that cars aren’t the only thing Apple is working on when it comes to autonomy. Cook mentioned that autonomous systems could be used in multiple ways, and just one of them is the ability to operate driverless vehicles. As he’s stated before, autonomy is the king of artificial intelligence.

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"In terms of the autonomous systems, what we've said is 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 sort of the mother of all AI 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."
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All of this project still remains a mystery to the public. Apple has been tight-lipped on what’s down the pipeline and that was still the case after the conference call. Cook mentioned that three different areas of the vehicle industry -- electric cars, self-driving technology, and ride-hailing services -- are all changing at the same time. It looks like the company is at least working on the latter two, and could even be merging them.

Last May, the company invested $1 billion in Didi Chuxing, a Chinese ride-hailing service. Cook explained the move as a way to understand the Chinese market, saying, "We are making the investment for a number of strategic reasons, including a chance to learn more about certain segments of the China market. Of course, we believe it will deliver a strong return for our invested capital over time as well."

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What about beyond vehicles? There’s plenty of existing technology out there to take notes on. Siri gives us a way to talk freely to a mobile device and easily retrieve cooking instructions or setting up appointments when our hands are full. They also have robots disassembling old phones and helping out around warehouses.

Clearly, Apple doesn’t want any information about this upcoming technology leaked as they still remain very quiet on the subject. Based on what we know, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them unveiling self-driving taxis or assistive robots for the home.

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