Apple’s focus on ‘autonomous systems’ →

Tim Cook’s interview with Bloomberg made news today, as he confirmed Apple’s work on autonomous systems, including relation to software for autonomous cars.

We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said in a June 5 interview on Bloomberg Television that amounted to his most detailed comments yet on Apple’s automotive plans. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.” He likened the effort to “the mother of all AI projects,” saying it’s “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”

Foot in the Door

Apple’s car project, ‘Project Titan’, had been reportedly scaled back from a full-on car to the underlying software, as this interview seems to confirm. However, Tim calls attention to three shifts involving the car market:

  • Electric cars
  • Automated driving
  • Ride sharing

That said, Tim didn’t rule out the idea that Apple will eventually create its own car one day, but he was very selective in his wording. Maybe Apple thinks software is its foot in the door to the car market. After years and years of being plagued by half-assed ‘infotainment’ systems, auto makers are just now starting to fully adopt technologies like Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto), letting your phone take over all the fun stuff. After owning a car with CarPlay for a few weeks, I can’t get over how great of an experience it is over my wife’s car (sorry, honey). I can’t go back after this.

Now imagine your whole vehicle being controlled by Apple’s code and custom silicon. What if they could reach car automation nirvana, where cars that fit all the shifts described above could talk to each other, coordinate, and learn? Cars with intelligent stopping features are already responsible for saving lives. Imagine what we could do if they communicated with each other. 1

Apple Watch’s Role

Tim has said before that he wants Apple Watch to replace your car keys. I foresee them only being able to do this if they own the code and silicon within the vehicle. Apple-written code and silicon could provide an order of magnitude greater authentication system between a car/Apple Watch than integration with current car computers. As everyone should know, if you want digital security and privacy, you get an Apple product. Now apply that to a car.

Beyond the Car

Apple’s made some interesting moves in the realm of automation, lately. Of note:

These moves are definitely intriguing. With Apple’s work on Machine Learning and the introduction of CoreML3 for developers, I believe Machine Learning and automation are directly related. An AI-specific chip also sounds like something right out of their silicon playbook.

Machine Learning can (and is) being applied to a multitude of areas, and Siri is the friendly interface for the intensive work behind the scenes. In fact, Machine Learning is becoming a standard feature. This is illustrated in the new HomePod, as Craig Federighi described on his ‘The Talk Show’ appearance. To be more specific, HomePod and your other Apple devices intelligently vote on which one should respond to ‘Hey, Siri’. Also, on the new Face-sync feature: all of your Apple devices will independently and intelligently come to the same conclusion on which faces are associated to which person–and this is all done on-device, as opposed to the cloud.

As for why Tim would bring this up now, I think it’s because Apple has nothing to lose. Even if the software part of the car project never comes to fruition, they don’t lose anything, whereas their automation and Machine Learning features are starting to become standard and a very important part of what’s coming next.

  1. I, for one, welcome our autonomous driving overlords. 
  2. Workflow is such an awesome app. You should check it out and just play around with it. 
  3. Allows developers to access Apple’s Machine Learning algorithms, even with minimal code. Along with ARKit, this is one of the biggest announcements developers are excited about.