Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook confirms his company is focused on autonomous driving systemsGetty Images

Apple boss Tim Cook has confirmed for the first time that the iPhone maker is working on driverless car technology.

The news comes after two years of rumours and speculation surrounding Apple's alleged plans to build its own electric, autonomous car.

The chief executive told Bloomberg Apple is "focusing on autonomous systems...And clearly one purpose of autonomous systems is self-driving cars."

Looking at the wider picture, Cook noted: "I think there is a major disruption looming there. Not only for self-driving cars, but also the electrification piece...Plus you have ride-sharing on top of this, you have three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame."

Cook went on to describe autonomous car systems as "the mother of all AI [artificial intelligence] projects. It's probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on. And so autonomy is something that is incredibly exciting for us and we'll see where it takes us."

Speaking in a video interview published on 13 June, Cook added: "And so autonomy is something that is incredibly exciting for us and we'll see where it takes us...we are being straightforward that it's a core technology that we view as very important."

But, steering clear of discussing exactly what products his company has in mind, he said: "We're not really saying from a product point of view what we will do. But we are being straightforward that it's a core technology that we view as very important."

Project Titan

Rumours of Apple building its own car have swirled since 2015, with claims the company wanted to compete against Tesla and Google. A vehicle was believed to be in development as part of a secretive initiative within Apple, known as Project Titan.

Cook was said to have negotiated with BMW to use the company's electric i3 car as a starting point, but recently news began to spread that Apple had scaled back the 1,000-employee car division, opting to abandon hardware development in favour of self-driving technology.

The only automotive product released by Apple to date is CarPlay, an iPhone-like interface adopted by an increasing number of manufacturers for their infotainment systems, from Ford to Ferrari.

There had already been numerous clues pointing towards Apple's interest in self-driving technology. Most recently, Apple was granted an autonomous vehicle test permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in April, 2017. This means Apple is allowed to test self-driving cars on the state's public roads.

The permit covers six Apple drivers and three vehicles, all the same 2015 model of Lexus' RX450h, a hybrid sports utility vehicle also used for autonomous car testing by Waymo, the car division of Alphabet, parent company of Google.

Apple is one of 30 companies granted permission by the state of California to test autonomous cars in public; these include traditional car manufacturers, as well as technology companies, startups and automotive component suppliers. Each vehicle must include a driver, ready to take over if the system fails, but lawmakers are already working on legislation to remove humans entirely from these test vehicles.