Apple patents suggest possible future features for rumored autonomous car


Apple is said to be in discussions with manufacturers of self-driving sensors, suggesting its rumored Apple Car is coming closer to reality. 

Along with the conversations, the tech giant has filed a number of patents in recent months for a range of features that could be unleashed in the futuristic vehicle.  

The registered designs include augmented reality windshields, virtual reality displays that stop motion sickness and sensors that keep passengers from getting hit when they open their door.

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Apple has plans for a VR display system that would combat motion sickness with moving backgrounds that followed the motion of the car

Apple has been reportedly working on an autonomous vehicle since at least 2014, but the Cupertino-based company has been notoriously quiet about its plans.

Earlier this month, Korean newspaper The Dong-a Ilbo reported Apple was preparing to invest $3.6 billion in Kia Motors so the carmaker could build its electric cars with the hope of introducing them to market in 2024.

In January indicated Apple was in ‘early talks’ with another Korean car company, Hyundai.

But last week, Bloomberg News reported Apple was still in discussions with numerous suppliers of Light Detection and Ranging, or lidar, technology, which is used to guide autonomous vehicles.

An application for 'Concealed User Interfaces' suggests touchscreens hidden in doors, seats and other surfaces. To turn on the radio 'passengers could tap, touch, or pinch their surroundings'

An application for ‘Concealed User Interfaces’ suggests touchscreens hidden in doors, seats and other surfaces. To turn on the radio ‘passengers could tap, touch, or pinch their surroundings’

A flow chart for Apple's Dynamic Element Protection system suggests it could instruct the car to keep its doors and windows shut if it was submerged. The vehicle would unlock seat belts and deploy floatation devices before confirming the passengers were ready to exit

A flow chart for Apple’s Dynamic Element Protection system suggests it could instruct the car to keep its doors and windows shut if it was submerged. The vehicle would unlock seat belts and deploy floatation devices before confirming the passengers were ready to exit

That suggests a showroom model could still be at least five years away, according to Bloomberg.

On the plus side, that gives Apple plenty of time to perfect some of the auto-related patents it has registered.

One application from August 2020 is for ‘Dynamic Element Protection,’ including plans for an intelligent car door that wouldn’t open if a vehicle or pedestrian was too close.

The system could either keep the door completely shut or restrict the amount it swings open to prevent contact, according to Apple Insider.

A flow chart included in the filing suggests it could also instruct the car to keep its doors and windows shut if the car was sinking in water.

The vehicle would unlock seat belts and deploy flotation devices before confirming the passengers are ready to exit.

Apple suggests an AI system that would be able to interpret hand  signals from a traffic cop, crosswalk guard, or other 'traffic director'

Apple suggests an AI system that would be able to interpret hand  signals from a traffic cop, crosswalk guard, or other ‘traffic director’

And if a car was parked with a passenger or pet inside, the Dynamic Element Protection system would turn on the air conditioning to keep them from overheating.

A more recent filing, from this month, involves ‘Traffic Direction Gesture Recognition,’ suggesting the car would be able to interpret hand signals from a traffic cop, crosswalk guard, or other ‘traffic director.’

According to the filing, current autonomous vehicle systems fail to address situations ‘where a pedestrian may be manually directing traffic, for example due to an accident, special event, or road hazard.’

Apple proposes sensors that would scan nearby pedestrians to identify a traffic director using recognizable signals.

‘Gestures of a traffic director may be interpreted and understood by the vehicle as commands to perform maneuvers related to the traffic diversion, including stopping, slowing, or turning onto a detour route,’ the filing explains, according to Apple Insider.

‘The vehicle may be equipped with a command acknowledgement device for acknowledging to a traffic director the vehicle’s understanding of the traffic diversion condition or maneuver commands.’

A number of Apple’s recent automotive patents involve car windows: An application from May describes an intelligent window-tinting system that could dim to deal with glare from the sun or to provide additional privacy when the car is parked. 

And in August, Apple filed a patent for an augmented reality (AR) display system that would show up on a transparent surface — like the windshield.

It would provide standard dashboard data — like speed,  fuel, battery level — and notify the driver of upcoming hazards.

The same system could translate a traffic sign or even highlight a route for the driver to follow, Apple Insider reported.

A similar filing in December theorized holographic displays coming out of the windshield that would provide dashboard info, according to Business Insider

Apple has reportedly been working on an autonomous electric vehicle at least since 2014 but has been notoriously quiet about details

Apple has reportedly been working on an autonomous electric vehicle at least since 2014 but has been notoriously quiet about details

If you crack your windshield, another Apple patent describes a system that would automatically detect the break and book an appointment with your local service station.  

But it’s not just the windows that could react in Apple’s high-tech vehicle: Another filing, for ‘Concealed User Interfaces,’ suggests touchscreens hidden in doors, seats and other surfaces.   

To engage an input device — say the radio or entertainment system — ‘passengers could tap, touch, or pinch their surroundings,’ Business Insider reported. 

Another patent application for the passenger could help prevent car sickness.

The ‘Immersive Virtual Display’ headset would block out the view of the real world, and present one that matched the vehicle’s motions, eliminating the disconnect that causes motion sickness.

The background could simulate the view outside, or present a completely different environment.

If it knows a passenger is prone to motion sickness, the system could provide ‘a calm, soothing virtual experience.’



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