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Apple Invents 'Adjustable Exterior Lighting' Systems for future Semi and fully Autonomous Vehicles

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On January sixth, Patently Apple posted an IP report titled "Apple Invents a Smart Headlights system for Semi-Autonomous and Robotic Vehicles that automatically adjust to road conditions & more." Last Thursday, the US Patent & Trademark Office published yet another patent application from Apple specifically relating to adjustable exterior lighting systems for future semi and fully autonomous vehicles.  

Systems With Adjustable Lights

Automobiles and other vehicles have lights such as headlights. To accommodate different driving conditions, headlights are sometimes provided with adjustable settings such as low beam and high beam settings. Yet with the advancement of  autonomous vehicles, adjustable lighting could now be widely advanced beyond mere low and high beam settings.

According to Apple, the lights may be electrically adjustable so that the color and pattern of the illumination may be varied. Control circuitry in a vehicle may adjust the lights based on sensor data, user input, and other criteria.

A light such as headlight may have a light source such as a white light source or multicolored light source, a light collimator that receives light from the light source, and an adjustable lens array that receives collimated light from the light collimator and outputs corresponding adjustable vehicle illumination.

The adjustable lens array may have first and second arrays of lens elements that are aligned with each other. The adjustable lens array may have an electrically adjustable light modulator located between the first and second lens element arrays. A mask may have openings aligned with respective adjustable light modulator elements in the adjustable light modulator.

Further, Apple notes that headlight illumination at visible and/or infrared wavelengths may be used to provide illumination for image sensors that are used by an autonomous driving system or driver's assistance system.

Headlights may also, as an example, be adjusted to narrow or widen headlight beams and/or to otherwise adjust the shape of the headlight illumination pattern.

Lastly, Apple notes the vehicle could steer headlight beams to the left and right (e.g., to accommodate curves in a road), to spotlight objects of interest, to enhance headlight performance under particular weather conditions or other operating conditions, to provide alerts to pedestrians or others, and/or to otherwise vary the properties of the headlight output.

Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a side view of a portion of an illustrative vehicle that may carry passengers (e.g., an automobile, truck, or other automotive vehicle). Configurations in which vehicle #10 is a robot (e.g., an autonomous robot) or other vehicle that does not carry human passengers may also be used.

Using vehicle sensors such as lidar, radar, visible and/or infrared cameras (e.g., two-dimensional and/or three-dimensional cameras), proximity (distance) sensors, and/or other sensors, an autonomous driving system and/or driver-assistance system in the vehicle may perform automatic braking, steering, and/or other operations to help avoid pedestrians, inanimate objects, and/or other external structures such as illustrative obstacle #26 on the roadway #14.

Apple's patent FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative vehicle light and FIG. 4 is a diagram of an illustrative surface illuminated with an adjustable vehicle light.

2 adjustable lighting system patent figs  Apple  Patently Apple report Jan 25  2023

For more details, review Apple's patent application # US 20230020516 A1.

Apple Inventors 

  • Clarisse Mazuir: Lighting and sensors lead at Apple SPG
  • Chris Child: Product Design Engineer – Autonomous Systems (Previously worked at Fisker and Toyota)
  • Xiaofeng Tang: Product Design Engineer (Optical Engineering background)


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