The big news in the technology world this week is Apple’s reported decision to start some sort of automobile division, staffed with some very smart people who specialize in electric batteries and other components. According to The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other sources, Apple is building an electric, possibly self-driving vehicle that could compete with Tesla, arguably the world’s premier maker of electric automobiles.
Apple isn’t the only tech giant exploring the possibilities of the automotive world. Google has tinkered with self-driving cars for years; Uber is also reportedly researching, in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University, how to build autonomous vehicles.
Why are these tech companies so interested in cars, a notoriously difficult and low-margin business? Some of it probably has to do with Tesla, which demonstrated that an automotive startup could succeed in the face of competition from the big automakers, provided it targets the right audience (in Tesla’s case, wealthy and eco-conscious people who want a top-of-the-line car). Another aspect is simple economics: Transportation is one of the biggest businesses out there, and the company that “disrupts” it on an epic scale will collect substantial rewards.
But such widespread disruption is a long way off: A new Bloomberg report suggests that an Apple car, if ever produced, won’t hit the road before 2020 at the earliest. (That report cited unnamed “people with knowledge of the matter” for the information, so take it with a not-insubstantial grain of salt.)
If Silicon Valley does become the next Detroit, the tech giants will need workers with very specific sets of auto-centric skills—but which skills? The Apple-focused blog 9to5Mac, in producing a list of Apple’s early automotive employees, gives us some idea:
- Safety Tech Specialists who can build everything from night-vision and collision-detection software to airbag and seat belt hardware.
- Engineers who can model and predict the performance of car engines, drive trains, and other components.
- Battery Experts who know everything about lithium-ion cells and how to improve them.
- App Builders who can build dashboard-screen apps connected to in-vehicle systems.
- Artificial Intelligence Specialists who can make sure the future’s supercar doesn’t drive itself right into a tree.
While it’s still uncertain whether the tech industry will take a collective run at becoming the next car industry, those pros specializing in any of the above areas could find a lot of opportunities in coming years.