Apple's Autonomous Cars will Introduce a Unique 'Countdown Indicator' that Prepares Passengers of a coming Maneuver
Today a newly granted patent not seen before, describes how a driver could put a car into autonomous mode and feel comfortable that the vehicle will communicate its intentions to both the driver and to others on the road such as the vehicle directly behind you. More specifically, Apple notes that aspects of the invention involve displaying an operational status of a system such as whether the vehicle is in manual control mode or autonomous control mode. More importantly, Apple introduces us to an all-new 'countdown indicator.' For example, the vehicle will communicate to the driver, passenger or vehicle behind you that your vehicle will be making a left turn in 9 seconds so that there's no surprised for anyone.
Overall, the system is designed to have the vehicle display all intended maneuver by the vehicle well ahead of time. For example, the vehicle may determine a route for the autonomous vehicle that includes various operations or steps and may display one or more of the operations or steps of the route to the driver or passengers.
This information may be displayed such that an external observer to the vehicle may also determine what the near-future operation autonomous vehicle is about to perform.
Apple's Patent Background
It is often advantageous for systems and/or machines to provide some indication of an operational status or of an executing operation to users of the system. In a similar manner, providing an indication of the system to external observers may also be beneficial. For example, operators of vehicles often provide some indication of an intended maneuver of the vehicle, such as by initiating a turn signal before making a lane change. Such an indication alerts other nearby drivers or pedestrians to the intention of the driver of the vehicle such that the other nearby drivers and pedestrians may react accordingly. Further, many drivers provide other, more subtle cues as the intention of the driver while operating the vehicle that are viewed and considered by the other nearby drivers and pedestrians when reacting to the operation of the vehicle. For example, multiple views in a rearview mirror by a driver may indicate the driver intends on changing lanes, regardless of whether the driver uses a turn signal.
Because many drivers rely on these indicators when driving, some are uncomfortable operating a vehicle around autonomous or unmanned vehicles. In particular, many drivers are unsure of the operation of an autonomous vehicle such that they cannot anticipate how the vehicle is going to move in traffic and fail to react normally to the presence of the autonomous vehicle while driving. This may lead to avoidable collisions between cars and unsafe driving conditions. Thus, providing indications of the operation of the autonomous vehicle aids other drivers and pedestrians in anticipating the movement of the autonomous vehicle and, ultimately, makes such observers more comfortable with the presence of the autonomous vehicles on the roads.
Invention: System and Method for Visual Communication of an Operational Status
Apple's invention, that was granted today, covers methods for operating an autonomous vehicle. The method may include the operations determining a route for the autonomous vehicle from a starting location to a destination location, the route comprising at least one operation control of the autonomous vehicle corresponding to a next step in the calculated route, calculating an estimated time to the next step in the calculated route, and displaying an indicator of the next step in the calculated route on an external surface prior to executing the at least one operation control of the autonomous vehicle.
Another implementation of the invention takes the form of a system for operating an autonomous vehicle. The system may include a non-transitory database storing one or more geographic maps of a region and a processing device in communication with the non-transitory database for calculating a route for the autonomous vehicle from a starting location to a destination location utilizing at least one geographic map of the region, the route comprising at least one operation control of the autonomous vehicle corresponding to a next step in the calculated route.
The system may also include a geographic position system (GPS) locator in communication with the processing device, the processing device further utilizing the GPS locator to calculate an estimated time to the next step in the calculated route based at least on a current geographic location of the GPS locator and a display system displaying an indicator of the next step in the calculated route on an external surface prior to executing the at least one operation control of the autonomous vehicle.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a flowchart of a method for providing a visual indication of an operational status of an autonomous vehicle; FIG. 2 is diagram of projecting a turn signal on a road surface; FIG. 3 is a diagram of projecting a lane change intention on a road surface; and FIG. 4 is a diagram of projecting a reversing path on a road surface.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 above is a diagram of a display device displaying a turn signal and a countdown to a turn operation; FIG. 6 is diagram of a display device displaying a stop signal and a countdown to a stop operation; FIG. 7 is a diagram of a display device displaying an operational indication and a distance to a next step of route; and FIG. 8 is a diagram of a display device displaying a detected potential obstruction for operation of a vehicle.
The Countdown Indicator for Passengers and Other Drivers
Apple's new 'Countdown Indicator' noted in the patent figure graphic is unique and deserves a little more detail as follows:
Apple notes that the display of the next step may include displaying the indicator of the next step on a display device of the vehicle. One such display device may be oriented on the vehicle toward the back of the vehicle such that drivers in other vehicles behind the displaying vehicle can observe the display device. The display device may be located anywhere on or near the vehicle. So not only will a countdown indicator communicate next maneuvers to passengers, it will also communicate the same information to drivers of vehicles behind yours.
Any type of information may be displayed on the display device or projected onto the surface. In one particular implementation, the calculated estimated time to the next step in the calculated route may be displayed. In addition to displaying the estimated time left, the estimated time left may be adjusted to provide a displayed countdown to the operation that accompanies the next step.
For example, as the vehicle nears the location of the next step of the route such as a left turn, the display may provide a countdown until the autonomous vehicle executes the left turn. The countdown and other displayed information may aid one or more external observers to the vehicle in determining or anticipating the operation or movement of the vehicle. Such information may make the observer comfortable with the vehicle being driven autonomously.
In another implementation, the route may also include information about the series of steps the vehicle may perform to travel the route, such as which directions the vehicle turns and/or travels (such as "left turn", "right turn", "U-turn", "north", "south", etc.), lane information such as which lane the vehicle should be in to perform the next step in the series of steps of the route, localized information of the area around the roads of the route (such as local businesses and services), an estimated time to traverse the initial route, an estimated time of arrival, alternate routes and estimated times to traverse the alternate routes, and the like.
Further, in one or more implementations, the vehicle may receive traffic information for roads along the initial and/or alternate routes and utilize the information when estimating the time of arrival.
For those wanting to understand this system a little deeper, check out granted patent 10,053,001 here.
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