Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook has suggested that the firm's investment in autonomous systems could expand beyond just vehicles. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook has shed some light on the company's secret driverless car project and interest in autonomous systems, hinting that the technology could be used for more than just vehicles. In a conference call with investors on Tuesday (1 August), Cook said the Cupertino company currently has a "large project" in the works with regards to artificial intelligence and suggested that its efforts could expand beyond cars.

"In terms of the autonomous systems, what we've said is we are very focused on autonomous systems from a core technology point of view. We do have a large project going and are making a big investment in this," Cook said. "From our point of view, autonomy is sort of the mother of all AI projects, and the autonomous systems can be used in a variety of ways, and a vehicle is only one.

"But there are many different areas of it, and I don't want to go any further with that."

Cook did not specify any other details regarding the project. However, autonomous systems could be implemented in various different ways from drones and consumer-facing products to shipping, robotics and smart factory assembly lines.

The tech executives' remarks come as multiple rivals including Google, Uber and Tesla competitively race to develop their own self-driving technology. Unlike its counterparts, Apple's operation dubbed Project Titan, which began in 2014 has been kept under wraps for the most part so far.

In a letter sent to the National Highway Safety Administration in December last year, Apple revealed its deep interest in autonomous car systems saying it was "investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation."

Earlier in April, the California Department of Motor Vehicles awarded Apple a permit to start testing its self-driving car technology on public roads in the state - the 30th company to do so. Since then, the firm has been testing its autonomous driving system in multiple Lexus RX450h hybrid SUVs equipped with third-party optical cameras, Velodyne's LiDAR sensor and radar units, photos of which have already emerged.

In June, Cook officially confirmed that the iPhone maker is seeking to build its own self-driving car technology after years of speculation and rumours.

"We're focusing on autonomous systems," Cook said in a 5 June interview on Bloomberg Television. "It's a core technology that we view as very important." However, he did not reveal whether Apple is looking to produce its own driverless car.

"We'll see where it takes us," he said. "We're not really saying from a product point of view what we will do."