Apple, normally the most secretive of companies, has lifted the curtain a tad on its plans for the automobile industry.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told Bloomberg Television earlier this month. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”
As other tech firms will tell you—including Tesla, Uber, and Google—it’s also something difficult to get exactly right. During the interview, Cook framed the quest for effective self-driving technology as primarily an artificial-intelligence problem.
Rumors have drifted for years about Apple’s interest in the automobile business. The company had reportedly hired hundreds of engineers and other personnel to work on “Project Titan,” initially an effort to build a whole vehicle. Those efforts seem to have been scaled back to focus on software.
Earlier this year, Apple won approval to test self-driving cars from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Keen-eyed bystanders in the state have also noted the roving presence of Apple vans equipped with LIDAR technology, which uses sensors and laser light to survey the surrounding environment; various tech firms seem to have settled on some variation of LIDAR as the ideal “eyes” for autonomous vehicles.
To Bloomberg Television, Cook cited electric vehicles and ride-hailing in addition to self-driving technology as, collectively, “major disruption.” Apple has invested in ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, which is based in China.
Apple normally doesn’t offer much insight into its development roadmap, preferring to only show off finished products ready (or nearly ready) for sale. That in itself makes Cook’s statement unusual. For those tech pros interested in autonomous technology as a profession, it’s also exciting, because it suggests that more companies are leaping into the space — which means, of course, more jobs.
For those interested in learning the nuts and bolts of autonomous driving tech, there are a handful of educational routes. Udacity, for example, offers online classes in self-driving car engineering (it’s a nano-degree program). But no matter which road chosen, tech pros involved in autonomous driving must have several types of skill-sets, including (but certainly not limited to) machine learning, statistics and probability, and programming; some knowledge of artificial intelligence, deep learning, and robotics wouldn’t hurt, either.
And who knows what kind of apps people might build for a self-driving iDashboard?