Apple has spoken about its plans for self-driving cars for the first time.

The company won’t be building its own vehicle, boss Tim Cook said. But it’s doing something that might be even more important: building technology that can be put into a car to make it able to drive itself.

He said that the company was excited about such developments, including electric cars. For the moment however it is focusing on “autonomous systems”, something that Mr Cook said could be used to power self-driving vehicles in the future but a range of different products too.

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Asked whether he was worried that Apple was being left behind by more vocal self-driving car companies like Google and Tesla, Mr Cook said that he recognised that disruption was coming – but that Apple was working to deal with it.

“I think there is a major disruption looming there,” he told Bloomberg TV. “Not only for self-driving cars, but also the electrification piece. If you’ve driven an all electric car, it’s actually a marvelous experience. And it’s a marvelous experience not to stop at the filling station or gas station, whatever you want to call it. Plus you have ride sharing on top of this. So you have got three vectors of change happening generally in the same timeframe.

“So as we look at it, what we’re focusing on – what we’ve talked about focusing on publicly – is we’re focusing on autonomous systems. Clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars – there are others.

“We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on. Autonomy is something that’s incredibly exciting for us.”

Mr Cook wasn’t clear what form the company’s self-driving projects would take. But he made reference to developing the “core technology” needed – Apple tends to use the word “core” for technologies that are integrated into its products but that can be used by other developers in their own projects.

As such, it may be that the company would allow car companies to buy either the software or an entire piece of hardware to go into their cars. But Mr Cook wouldn’t say what would actually be available for people to purchase.

“We’re really not saying from a product point of view what we’ll do,” he said. “But we are saying it will be a core technology that we view as important.”


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