Apple CEO Dubs Self-driving Car Program 'the Mother of All A.I. Projects'

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
apple ceo dubs self driving car program 8216 the mother of all a i projects

Apple has been perpetually flip-flopping in terms of developing autonomous vehicles. In 2014, the company was rumored to have begun work on an autonomous electric car, codenamed “Project Titan,” with hundreds of employees devoted solely to its development.

Management issues and logistical problems impaired its progress, leading Apple to abandon the project. Since then, Bob Mansfield has fronted a renewed effort to focus on building an autonomous driving system rather than a complete car. At least, that was everyone’s best guess, as the company has been semi-secretive about its mission since day one.

That changed on Tuesday, when CEO Tim Cook confirmed that Apple does indeed have a self-driving development program. The chief executive even went so far as to call it “the mother of all A.I. projects.” That’s quite the claim to make, considering making the tech work on a car is half the battle and Apple has no practical experience building an autonomous vehicle.

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said in an interview on Bloomberg Television earlier this month. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”

He detailed his view of the future for the automotive industry as a combination of self-driving cars, electric vehicles, and ride-sharing. Apple plans to focus on autonomy, though some of Cook’s talk seemed to hint that the company hadn’t abandoned the notion of building an EV entirely. “It’s a marvelous experience not to stop at the filling station or the gas station,” Cook said.

However, the CEO’s penchant for not having to stop at the gas station — or the filing station, if you prefer — doesn’t indicate the company has any genuine plans to build a physical car. Cook just didn’t outright say that option was no longer on the table.

“We’ll see where it takes us,” he said. “We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.”

It’s definitely too early for Apple to commit to anything. Despite having begun running its systems on at least one Lexus SUV, it has only recently gained an autonomous vehicle test permit to use in California. The company lags noticeably behind major automakers like Ford and General Motors, but is working on catching up.

A self-driving simulation group, which includes virtual reality expert Doug Bowman, has designed simulators that use VR to test Apple’s self-driving software. The company also invested one billion dollars into Didi Chuxing, the Chinese Uber, in 2016. Of course, none of this adds up to Apple being the first to achieve the fabled Level 5 Autonomy. It just proves it’s still a player and doesn’t want to be left out of the party.

“Clearly, one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars — there are others. And we sort of see it as the mother all A.I. projects,” Cook told Bloomberg. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects, actually, to work on. So autonomy is something that is incredibly exciting for us.”

[Image: iphonedigital/ Flickr ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

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  • Carguy67 Carguy67 on Jun 14, 2017

    Spot on. Our "current software QC methods" don't even catch all the simple logic and UI errors in modern software and web apps. For AI testing, we'll need psychologists and psychiatrists doing the testing.

  • Brentrn Brentrn on Jun 14, 2017

    I believe I saw Opie at the filling station today.

  • Zerofoo I learned a long time ago to never buy a heavily modified vehicle. Far too many people lack the necessary mechanical engineering skills to know when they've screwed something up.
  • Zerofoo I was part of this industry during my college years. We built many, many cars for "street pharmacists" that sounded like this.Excessive car audio systems are kind of like 800 HP engines. Completely unnecessary, but a hell of a lot of fun.
  • DedBull In it to win it!
  • Wolfwagen IIRC I remember reading somewhere that the Porsche Cayenne was supposed to have a small gasoline-powered block heater. There was a loop in the cooling system that ran to the heater and when the temperature got to a certain point (0°C)the vehicle's control unit would activate the heater. I dont know if this was a concept or if it ever made it into production.
  • Jeffro As I sit here this morning with my 2 day old TRD OFF ROAD 4RUNNER tucked safely away in the garage, my head spins with this weird desire to locate a 85 LTD equipped with the epic 😵‍💫2.3 and the FOUR ON THE FLOOR. THE HOLY GRAIL. Ying and yang baby!The search begins.
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