Intelligent Machines

Apple Finally Acknowledges One of Its Worst-Kept Secrets

In a letter to federal regulators, the company revealed it wants a piece of the autonomous car industry.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple has finally come out and said it: it’s interested in self-driving car technology.

The company’s desires to enter the automotive industry are a badly kept secret. But a letter it sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explains that the company is “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation,” adding that it’s “excited about the potential of automated systems in … transportation.”

The letter was sent in response to recently proposed government guidelines for the development of autonomous vehicles. Apple seems broadly in favor of what the NHTSA has decided to lay down in its proto-rulebook, though it does raise concerns that automakers and tech companies may be treated differently by regulators when it comes to issues like testing.

Apple doesn’t make any mention in the letter that it is developing its own car, which fits with recent reports suggesting that the company is instead concentrating its attentions on software. Apple has apparently lost hundreds of members of its automobile team, and has been focusing on developing autonomous driving systems.

It’s not alone. Uber has announced that it’s opening a lab dedicated to machine learning, and a large proportion of that will be focused on developing the software required to run autonomous vehicles. And other companies, such as the University of Oxford spin-off Oxbotica, are already working specifically on software.

Still, it must feel good for Apple to gets its “secret” off its chest. Now we just need to wait and see what comes of it.

(Read more: Regulations.gov, “Apple’s Car Plans Are on the Ropes,” “U.S. Wants Makers of Driverless Cars to Prove They Are Safe,” “How Might Apple Manufacture a Car?”)

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