October 26, 2015      

More signs are pointing to Apple‘s development of a self-driving “iCar.” Last week while speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJDLive conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., Apple CEO Tim Cook said there’s a “massive change” coming to the auto industry.

Now maybe Cook was talking about self-driving cars in general or the growing role software plays in automobiles, but one of the latest hires by Apple indicates self-driving cars are a priority for the company.

Apple has hired artificial intelligence (AI) expert Jonathan Cohen, who was the director of deep learning for chip-maker Nvidia, Re/code reports. Nvidia used deep learning to train computers to process patterns in large reams of visual data. However, Nvidia recently has been selling its GPUs to carmakers to power the cameras and radar that enable autonomous driving.

“This is a big hire for Apple,” says Chris Nicholson, co-founder of the deep learning firm Skymind.io.

PHOTOS: 7 Potential Designs for Apple’s Self-Driving Car

Apple currently uses deep learning technology for its maps and voice recognition with Siri. Cohen ran Nvidia’s deep learning group since 2008.

Apple is aggressively pursuing the self-driving car space, with plans for electric and driver-assist vehicles by 2019. The Cohen hire is the latest move in a series of AI-related hires and acquisitions. At one point Apple posted at least 86 jobs for machine learning experts and quadrupled its employees with AI expertise.

The rumors about an Apple iCar became more serious in mid-August when a report uncovered documents that say Apple is building a self-driving car in Silicon Valley and is looking for test areas in the San Francisco Bay area. The report says Apple engineers met in May with GoMentum Station, a formal naval base near San Francisco that officials say is the largest secure test facility in the world for autonomous vehicles.

Apple has yet to confirm its plans for an iCar, but even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says it makes perfect sense the company to get into the automobile industry. “If you look at a company the size of Apple … for Apple to think about doing things that are progressive for the company moving forward it has to be something pretty large in terms of the amount that is spent on that category.

“That’s why I tend to believe all the rumors about Apple working on either electric or self-driving cars … because there’s a lot of money in vehicles. It’s trillions of dollars.”

Apple fanboys have already taken to the drawing board to come up with their dream designs. There even was a contest recently that called on designers to imagine what the rumored Apple Car might look like. Check out the designs here.