What Apple's patents tell us about a possible iCar | Cult of Mac

What Apple’s patents tell us about a possible iCar



Rumors about a possible Apple car have shifted into high gear recently, but Apple has been investigating automotive technologies for more than a decade.

Cupertino has the automotive design talent, the massive cash stockpile and the secret research-and-development facility to transform the car industry — and it also has the patents.

Here are a few of Apple's most intriguing automotive patents to get your engines revving.

Photo: Josh Baré/DeviantArt CC

Filed in late 2011, this patent application would allow you to unlock your car — and even start its engine — using a designated iOS device, such as an iPhone or Apple Watch.

Just as important as what it does is what it doesn't: This technology could let you disable your car's engine between particular hours, potentially cracking down on would-be burglaries while you're asleep.

Apple clearly has designs for Siri that go far beyond the intelligent assistant's current implementation. Siri forms a key component of CarPlay right now, but it could certainly go further. Apple also has a number of interesting concepts, such as a patent designed to let you ask "Siri, where's my car?" when you're lost in a parking lot — at which point, your dedicated AI helper will guide you back to your car. Helpful, no?

Siri's all well and good, but this 2009 patent filing goes further still, with calls for in-car camera technology — possibly letting you perform gestures from the driver's seat to control car functions such as window wipers and temperature adjustment.

The patent filing even mentions heads-up displays embedded into an automobile armrest and cameras built into a car to detect the head position of drivers.

This car-related Apple patent, filed in early 2012, tries to solve the problem of how multiple people can easily configure one vehicle for all their individual needs. Apple's answer: Use an iPhone to program user preferences related to everything from seat and mirror orientations to ideal cabin temperature and favorite radio stations. Best of all, you could take the same preferences with you to another vehicle, immediately customizing it to suit your requirements.

This Apple automotive patent, filed in mid-2012, describes how the iPhone’s geo-location capabilities could be used to intelligently monitor and control certain car functions, based on “geofences.” Using signals sent via Bluetooth LE, the technology could execute functions like locking your car and arming its alarm when you are a certain distance from the vehicle.

Different geofences could also be established and configured for a variety of boundaries. For instance, moving toward the rear of your car could automatically pop the trunk.

Apple loves the idea that you get a lot of use out of your iPhone, but it doesn't want to be responsible for car crashes! This 2008 patent filing describes a Windows Phone-style "drive mode" that would use a variety of sensors or iPhone data to detect when you're operating a vehicle, and would then block certain functions that might distract you while driving.

This isn't so much a car patent as an iPhone one, but it still demonstrates that vehicular safety is a subject up for discussion in Cupertino. Could talk of self-driving cars naturally follow?

One possible challenge with a vehicle packed full of connected components is what happens when you're out of range of the Internet. That problem could be partially solved by technology described in a 2003 patent (the oldest on this list, although it was only published in 2012). The patent describes a mesh network capable of keeping a car running in such a scenario.

Apple has since explored mesh networks beginning with iOS 7, becoming one of the first mainstream consumer tech companies to do so.


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