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Apple CEO Tim Cook Hints at the Company's Self-driving Car Plans in New Interview

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【Summary】During a podcast interview with journalist Kara Swisher, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that the company still has plans to build a vehicle capable of self-driving. Cook hinted at the company’s work in autonomous driving following recent reports about Apple’s plans to develop its own electric car.

Eric Walz    Apr 05, 2021 11:25 AM PT
Apple CEO Tim Cook Hints at the Company's Self-driving Car Plans in New Interview
Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted about the tech company's electric car plans in a new podcast interview.

During a podcast interview with journalist Kara Swisher, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that the company still has plans to build an electric vehicle capable of self-driving. Cook hinted at the company's work in autonomous driving, following recent reports about Apple's plans to develop its own electric car.

"The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view. If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot," Cook said in an interview on Swisher's "Sway" podcast. "And so there's lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we'll see what Apple does. "We investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I'm not saying that one will not," Cook added.

However when Cook was pressed if Apple was working on a car itself or the technology behind it, he declined to comment.

Apple has been working on self-driving car technology since 2017, which was confirmed when Cook referred to Apple's efforts to develop an electric vehicle as the "Mother of all AI projects."

A year later, Cook said that Apple was working on some type of autonomous driving system without elaborating. "Autonomy is something that's incredibly exciting for us and we'll see where it takes us," Cook said in 2018.

In December of last year, Reuters reported that Apple was moving forward with its self-driving car plans and was targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own advanced breakthrough battery technology.

Apple has long been rumored to get into the auto industry with its own vehicle or by selling its technology to other car makers. Although Apple is one of the world's biggest technology companies, it will likely partner with an automaker to launch a car rather than attempting to build one on its own, which leads to speculation that Apple is in talks in an established automaker. 

"We love to integrate hardware, software, and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that's where the magic occurs. And so that's what we love to do. And we love to own the primary technology that's around that," Cook told Swisher.

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Apple was putting the pieces in place to ramp up its work on autonomous driving since 2018. At the time, Apple rehired Doug Field, then Tesla's senior vice president of engineering, to presumably resume work on self-driving cars for Apple. 

Field was the senior vice president of engineering for the Model 3. It was reported that Field was rejoining Apple's secretive "Project Titan" self-driving car project along with Apple executive Bob Mansfield, who in the past led the company's autonomous driving efforts.

Tesla even denied Field was joining Apple. In a statement, The company wrote that Field was "just taking some time off to recharge and spend time with his family. He has not left Tesla." Two months later, Tesla confirmed that Field had in fact departed the electric automaker for Apple.

Apple also recruited several other former Tesla employees, including former Tesla vice president of engineering Michael Schwekutsch, now senior director of engineering for the Special Projects Group at Apple.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had even said last year that he once tried to start talks to sell the company to Apple, but Cook declined to meet with Musk. Surprising the leaders of two of the world's biggest technology companies have never met in person.

"You know, I've never spoken to Elon, although I have great admiration and respect for the company he's built. I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keeping the lead for such a long period of time in the EV space. So I have great appreciation for them," Cook told Swisher.

Apple's vehicle will reportedly include a new battery design that could "radically" reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle's range, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The battery was rumored to be a "monocell" design that frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating pouches and individual modules, giving the car a potentially longer range, the people said. 

"It's next level," the source said of Apple's battery technology. "Like the first time you saw the iPhone."

Earlier this year, Apple was in talks with Hyundai's division Kia about building an electric vehicle from the ground up that will support Apple's technology. Apple declined to comment on the rumors, but Hyundai confirmed the plans in a statement.

"Apple and Hyundai are in discussion, but as it's early stage, nothing has been decided," the company said.

By February however, those talks appeared to have stalled. 

Apple is also reportedly in talks with multiple lidar developers to supply the sensors for its secretive project, Bloomberg reported in January. Lidar is an important sensor for autonomous vehicles and is used to navigate and identify objects in the environment around the vehicle.

Bloomberg also reported in February that Apple has assembled a team of hardware engineers that are working on developing drive systems, external body designs, and an interior for Apple's electric vehicle.

Apple's newly established hardware team indicates that the company may be looking for a contract manufacturer for its electric vehicle. Although Cook has declined to give specifics about Apple's plans, the company's talks with Kia in the past about building an electric vehicle reveal that Apple is indeed up to something big. 

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