Is an Apple Car About to Hit the Road? (AAPL)

We know Apple believes it's a technology worth pursuing and being in the forefront of. The question is how involved they would like to be when autonomous driving systems finally start making their full-blown impact felt.

Car - Apple AAPL

A few weeks ago, through Bloomberg TV, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook all but confirmed the rumors about Apple’s real take on self-driving cars. As it turns out, their interest in autonomous driving technology is real, and so many are now arriving at the same conclusion: Apple’s next big project is self-driving cars.

According to Cook, Apple perceives autonomous driving systems as a very important ‘core technology’ for a future that’s bound to be filled with better electric vehicles and widespread adoption of ridesharing as a means to travel. He said Apple is focusing on autonomous systems because they see this as the ‘mother of all AI projects’ — one that will probably be the most difficult to work on. AI is of course revolutionizing technology on all fronts, and the auto sector is one of those industries that will be radically transformed.

Prior to this confirmation, hints about Apple’s interest in self-driving technology were already surfacing. For starters, it’s now commonly known that the California Department of Motor Vehicles has granted Cupertino a permit to test self-driving sports utility vehicles. So what’s that for, right?

There were also reports a couple of year ago about Apple hiring a team of engineers, more than 1,000 of them in fact (at least in the beginning, though that number has been significantly scaled down), and they have all been working on something called Project Titan. In fact, internally, the team was called the ‘car team’. That doesn’t leave much to speculation, doesn’t it?

And then, there were also the Lexus SUV photos loaded with cameras and sensors leaving Apple’s facility which circulated all over the Internet. Incidentally, those pictures emerged after Apple got its permit to test self-driving cars. There’s also the matter of those same vehicles having been spotted several times in and around Silicon Valley. Doing what? Test runs most likely.

While there’s no longer any dispute about Apple’s interest in autonomous driving tech, the big question is now whether the tech giant will develop its own cars, or will they be okay with simply developing the technology and partnering with someone else to sell it.

It seems Apple itself is still in the process of finding out which direction it will take. As Cook said to Bloomberg: “We’ll see where it takes us. We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.”

What’s clear, though, is this: if Apple does decide to go full force and build their own Apple-branded car, they’ll have a lot of catching up to do because current leaders in the technology (including Alphabet’s Waymo and Elon Musk’s Tesla) are already miles ahead. Which implies Apple has to make a decision rather soon, while there’s still room and perhaps time to catch up. But than again, Cupertino never had its act together with autonomy, which means the company is so far behind that it might never catch up.

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