Apple Patent reveals their work on Autonomous/Semi-Autonomous Vehicles with both Exterior & Interior 'Movable Sensors'
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to their ongoing and still mysterious autonomous/semi-autonomous vehicle project known as Titan or simply Project Titan. Rumors of timing to market will change like the wind and in the big picture is irrelevant. Apple continues to hire top-notch engineers and is continuing to file patents to secure their technology for autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. Each and every patent published goes to illustrate the depths of Apple's many vehicle innovations. Today, Apple's patent focuses on "Movable Sensor" systems for both the exterior and interior of the vehicle.
Apple's patent covers a future vehicle that may be configured to operate on a roadway or other surface. The vehicle may monitor information on vehicle operation such as vehicle speed, vehicle operating mode (parked or moving), vehicle location, weather, and other information on the vehicle and its surroundings. The vehicle may have one or more movable sensors mounted to a vehicle body.
The movable sensors, which may include sensors such as radar sensors, lidar sensors, cameras, and/or other sensors, may be moved in response to information on the vehicle and its surroundings.
For example, a movable sensor may be rotated, linearly translated, or otherwise moved between multiple positions in response to measured and/or predicted location information, parking status, driving mode information (e.g., autonomous, manual, etc.), vehicle speed, weather, and/or other criteria. If desired, a movable sensor may be moved during operation to isolate the sensor from unwanted vehicle motion (e.g., road vibrations, etc.).
In a stowed position, a movable sensor may be protected with a movable cover. A cleaner may clean the sensor. Alignment structures may be used to help accurately maintain the movable sensor in a desired position during use. During vehicle operation, information from the movable sensor may be used to provide control circuitry in the vehicle with driver assistance information and information for an autonomous driving system.
Sensors may also be used to gather user input from vehicle occupants and others.
Apple's patent FIG. 26 below is a flow chart of illustrative operations associated with using sensors in vehicle.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a top view of an illustrative vehicle of the type that may include one or more movable sensors. In the example of FIG. 1, vehicle 10 is the type of vehicle that may carry passengers (e.g., an automobile, truck, or other automotive vehicle). Configurations in which the vehicle is a robot (e.g., an autonomous robot) or other vehicle that does not carry human passengers may also be used. Vehicles such as automobiles
The vehicle may be manually driven (e.g., by a human driver), may be operated via remote control, and/or may be autonomously operated (e.g., by an autonomous driving system or other autonomous propulsion system).
Apple's patent FIG. 2 above is a cross-sectional top view of an illustrative movable sensor. In the illustrative configuration of FIG. 2, sensor #26 rotates about hinge #24. The hinge or other portion of the vehicle may include a motor or other positioner that rotates the sensor in and out of the body #12. As an example, the sensor may be rotated into the body to stow the sensor (e.g., when the sensor isn't in use gathering sensor measurements) and may be rotated to position #26′ (e.g., to deploy the sensor to a position where it may be used in gathering measurements).
Apple's patent FIG. 25 above shows how a positioner may be used to adjust the position of a sensor that is located in interior region #120 of the vehicle #10. The body may have portions that define an interior area such as the region for vehicle occupants. The moveable sensors #26 may include cameras (2D and/or 3D image sensors), radar sensors, lidar sensors, optical sensors, ultrasonic sensors, capacitive sensors, force sensors, temperature sensors, and/or other sensing devices and may be used to gather images of vehicle occupants and other items in the interior vehicle region that may be used to gather environmental measurements on the interior environment of the vehicle. This may be used to gather user input from occupants in the interior region (e.g., hand gestures, audio input, touch input, and/or other user input), and/or may gather other sensor data.
The positioner for each movable sensor #26 in the interior region may adjust the position of the sensor to track moving vehicle occupants, to stow and/or deploy the sensor, to adjust the portion of the region from which data is gathered, to provide the occupants with visual output (e.g., visual feedback of a sensor function) and/or to otherwise operations with the sensor.
Lastly, sensor data may be used to drive (or otherwise move) the vehicle autonomously and assist the vehicle to navigate obstacles, such as locating pedestrians, vehicles, and other objects, etc. If desired, sensors and/or sensor covers may be moved to simulate eye movements, eye winks, or other activities that serve to inform pedestrians or others in the vicinity of the vehicle's operating status.
As an example, sensor movements, cover movements, light output from a light-emitting device such as a headlight, parking light, or status indicator light, text or graphics displayed by a display, or other visual output may be provided to inform pedestrians and other in the vicinity of the vehicle of the current operating status of the vehicle (e.g., whether vehicle 10 is stationary, about to move, or moving, whether a pedestrian has been recognized by the vehicle, etc.). Audio output based on sensor data may accompany this visual output and/or may be provided separately.
In a very elementary way, the systems designed for autonomous vehicles to communicate with the public/pedestrians can be seen in video below. Apple acquired "Drive.ai" in June 2019. In the video you'll see displays on all sides of the vehicles that communicate with other drivers or pedestrians of the status of the vehicle. Obviously such a system for an Apple vehicle would have the displays better integrated into the vehicle. It's just the concept the video below is confirming.
For more details, review Apple's patent application number US 20220396216 A1. There are another 136 Project Titan patents that you could review in our archive.
- Kurt Stiehl: Product Design Director - Special Projects Group (SPG)
- Chris Child: Product Design Engineer – Autonomous Systems
- Mike Wharton: Senior Product Design Engineer – SPG
- Romain Teil: Product Design Engineering Manager - SPG
- Stephen B. Lynch: While I couldn't find a clear-cut LinkedIn profile, his patent history reveals that he's worked on many Apple patents relating to displays such as sidewall displays, convex displays and more, which is inline with today's patent application.