Apple’s Latest Patents Targeting Safety Could Be Part of Rumored “Project Titan”
Rumors have been mounting about Apple’s development of an autonomous electric vehicle, let's take a look at the two newest patents that could become part of this future autonomous vehicle.
Apple has a rich history of being an innovator and pioneer in the world of computing and consumer electronics. From the Mac to the iPhone and beyond, Apple's tight control of its hardware and software has offered an intuitive and innovative user experience. Needless to say, it is an expert in consumer electronics.
However, Apple's next move may have it branching into an entirely new field: autonomous vehicles.
Levels of autonomous driving. Image used courtesy of Alphabet
The project, which has yet to be officially confirmed, is said to be internally dubbed as "Project Titan" and has been in the works since 2014. Recently, Apple has been awarded a string of vehicle-related patents, adding more fuel to the rumors.
In this article, let's dive into these new patents and see what they can tell us about Apple's direction for this project.
Exterior Lighting and Warning System
The first of Apple's newly awarded patents are US Patent #11,104,267, which describes a novel vehicle's exterior lighting and warning system.
The patent describes a system in which a suite of undefined sensors gathers information and can display this information textually and graphically on an external lighting system. The system will track information, including a vehicle's relative speed to another following vehicle, risks of a collision between the vehicle and an external object, how hard the vehicle is braking, road conditions, and more.
Apple’s new exterior lighting and warning system. Image used courtesy of Patently Apple
Then, dedicated circuitry would control light-based displays on the car's exterior to display the information to other drivers around the vehicle. The patent describes that the light output may include large areas of a single and multiple colors, text, icons, moving content, or light patterns.
From an EE's perspective, the concepts proposed here are not novel; however, they would be a new feature for automobiles. The benefit here would be that intuitively displaying the vehicle's information would allow other drivers better to understand their environment relative to Apple's vehicle and theoretically lead to safer roads in general.
Not only is Apple appearing to focus on making the road a safer place, it is also targeting the safety of the occupant.
Occupant Safety System
The second patent recently awarded to Apple was US Patent #11,104,291, describing a novel occupant safety system. Much of this patent was initially granted to Apple in May 2020, but it has recently been awarded a second patent on the system thanks to the addition of 20 new patent claims.
A Zoox vehicle cabin. Screenshot [video] used courtesy of Zoox
The mockup of this patent shows a passenger cabin with four seats facing towards one another similar to that of a Zoox vehicle.
Two figures showing sketches of Apple’s proposed occupant safety system. Screenshots used courtesy of Apple
The patent describes a system in which a sensor provides an output signal when the vehicle detects an imminent and unavoidable collision. This signal is used to trigger a plethora of safety features for the passenger(s).
Among these features are selectively moveable seats relative to seat support structures, inflatable restraints deployable from lap portions of the seatbelt, and airbags deployable from a roof, cabin doors, and in the area between the passenger and the cabin.
Again, from the EE perspective, this would not require any novel technology, maybe just the integration of electromechanical actuators in the seats for a movement that responds to collision detection. However, as a concept in vehicles, the new system seems very comprehensive and valuable; if the airbags deploy before the crash even happens, it could significantly improve a passenger's safety.
What Have We Learned?
While Apple hasn't officially announced its work on a vehicle, all the evidence points to its existence.
These two patents show us that Apple is focusing very heavily on safety in their vehicle, which is a given, but they are doing it in a unique way. Both the exterior lighting system and the occupant safety system propose novel and interesting passenger safety techniques that could greatly impact the automotive industry.
While analysts don't believe that an Apple vehicle will be ready for launch for another couple of years, it is likely to include these systems, or some variation of them, into the finished product.
Once more information officially gets released, it will be interesting to unpack all of the technology that Apple has placed into its autonomous vehicle.
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