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Apple’s hire of top robotics engineer sparks speculation about ‘fantastic’ future projects

Apple Segway Engineer John Morrell

Apple’s (AAPL) recent decision to hire one of the leading engineers behind the Segway has some people speculating that the company is planning something big in the realm of robotics. John Morrell was set to become the director of Yale’s Center for Engineering Innovation & Design, however he promptly left the prestigious university when offered a position with Apple last year. Morrell is an expert on the interaction between humans and machines so it’s more likely than not that Apple wants his help working on a major robotics project.

“Since Apple discloses very little about upcoming projects, it’s anyone’s guess what Morrell is actually working on,” Ashlee Vance of Business Week explained. “My roboticist friends think he must be working on something pretty fantastic to have quit the Yale post. My great hope is that he is indeed building a robot that transforms health care, or crafting the first mind-bending consumer 3D printer, or devising something far more spectacular.”

Morrell’s hiring at Apple has reunited him with other members of the Segway team, such as former CTO Doug Field. Vance admits, however, that it’s possible Morrell may have “become just another member of a giant consumer electronics company.” Most of his former colleagues are said to be working on Apple’s flagship devices and not some sort of Segway offshoot, while Morrell is believed to be working in the Mac software group.

With its share price plummeting in recent months and more than $130 billion in cash, Vance suggests that it may be time for Apple to begin investing more in research and development, especially with “all-stars” such as Morrell on staff.

“A new TV could be a big win. So could a wristwatch. And since Apple is so darn secretive, it may once again surprise us all. It’s certainly possible that Apple has some top-secret skunkworks cooking up amazing things,” Vance concluded. “It would be a shame if a company with hundreds of all-stars, such as Morrell, isn’t working on something more daring than the next gadget. Apple has so much cash on hand and imagination at the ready that it ought to be able to think up a truly bold idea worth its effort.”