There have been rumors that Apple is working on a car for a long time, but CEO Tim Cook has finally confirmed them and even provided a bit of clarity. He says that the iPhone maker is working on an autonomous car system rather than an actual vehicle. In short, Apple is building self-driving car software rather than hardware. Sounds like it will be something like carOS, like watchOS or tvOS, rather than a physical Apple car, although Cook himself did not use the term “carOS” in referring to their self-driving car software.

Apple Car self-driving car software autonomous car system
Image Credit: MacRumors / YouTube video (screenshot)

Cook explains plans for self-driving car software

The rumors about Apple working on a car stretch back years, with multiple reports even suggesting that the company had a secret facility where it was doing the work. More recently, the rumors suggested that rather than an entire car, Apple was working on self-driving car software, and it turns out that they were right, although it seems like the Apple car project is one of the worst-kept secrets in Silicon Valley.

Cook told Bloomberg Television in an interview that artificial intelligence is at the core of what they’re working on in the area of autonomous vehicles. In what is his most extensive commentary about self-driving vehicles to date, he explained that they’re focusing on an autonomous car system to be installed in self-driving vehicles. He described self-driving car software as “a core technology” that they see as “very important,” even calling their autonomous car system “the mother of all AI projects” and “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”

Apple aims for big disruption with its AI-based autonomous car system

Cook stopped short of saying whether Apple will actually build its own car one day or not. He simply said that they will “see where it takes us” and added that they’re “not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.”

The Apple chief also had glowing things to say about electric vehicles as well, calling not having to stop at a gas station a “marvelous experience.” He sees the automotive industry as going through a time of major disruption right now, between autonomous vehicle technology, electric vehicles and ride-haling services such as Uber and Lyft.

Apple’s designs on the automotive industry have been gradually becoming more and more apparent over the last year or so. The company sunk $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing last year, not long after Bob Mansfield took over Project Titan, the secret division of Apple that’s working on its autonomous car system.

According to Bloomberg, the company had actually been building a car until Mansfield took the division over and redirected its efforts toward building the autonomous car system. More recently, Apple got a permit with the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test three Lexus SUVs that were apparently loaded with self-driving car software. A source reportedly told Bloomberg that the company’s autonomous driving system has been undergoing public road tests for at least a year, although a spokesperson for the company wouldn’t say how long the road tests have been going on.