Apple invents an advanced External Display System for Autonomous Passenger Vehicles that communicates with the public
Back in June 2019 Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple is Reportedly in the Process of Acquiring an Autonomous Vehicle Startup for its Highly Skilled AI Engineering Team." Our cover graphic illustrates an autonomous passenger transportation vehicle. As you could see on the side of the vehicle, there's a display that communicates with the public. The displays surround the vehicle. One large example is presented below for clarity.
In 2016, Drive.ai co-founder and president Carol Reiley told WIRED back in 2016: "We need to be able to communicate in all directions, and we need to be able to show intention and have a conversation with the other players on the road. As shown in the photos, the company was using Nissan vans that had panels mounted on all sides that communicated with the public showing verbiage such as “Waiting for you to cross,” “pulling over,” and “passengers entering."
As you can see, the signage is weakly presented and on a bright sunny day, the signage could be washed out, making it difficult for the public to read. That's what a new patent application from Apple published yesterday sets out to rectify.
Apple's patent relates to a future autonomous vehicle that carries passengers (taxi, truck, bus or other – like the drive.ai vehicle) having exterior displays that communicates with the public when needed. It could present verbiage and/or symbols that the vehicle is coming to a stop or present a symbol that it is safe to cross the street, very much like images that you now see at crosswalks – a walking symbol and a hand symbol for stop.
In Apple's patent background they note that some systems have external output devices such as light-emitting elements. However, these external output devices may be limited in the type of information they can convey. These external output devices may also have worse contrast than desired in bright ambient light. This is what Apple's invention addresses.
Patent Title: System with One-Way Filter over Light-Emitting Elements
Apple begins by noting that a vehicle may have an exterior display. The exterior display may display symbols that correspond to intended actions for the vehicle or symbols that correspond to instructions for nearby pedestrians.
The exterior display may routinely be operated in daytime conditions where sunlight levels are very high. If care is not taken, the bright sunlight may reduce contrast and wash out the display content. To preserve contrast in an exterior display, the display may be covered by a one-way filter that includes a microlens array and a mask with a plurality of holes. The microlens array may focus display light through the holes in the mask, allowing the display light to be visible to a viewer. At the same time, the mask may block the majority of sunlight, preventing reflections from washing out the display light.
The exterior display may include an array of light-emitting diodes, a collimator, a one-way filter to prevent ambient sunlight from washing out the display, and a cover layer. The one-way filter may include a microlens array and a masking layer. The collimator is configured to collimate light from the array of light-emitting diodes and provide the collimated light to the one-way filter.
The microlens array in the one-way filter receives the collimated light and focuses the collimated light through a plurality of holes in the masking layer. In this way, the majority of display light is passed through the one-way filter towards a viewer. However, the majority of ambient sunlight is blocked by the masking layer, thus preserving a high contrast for the exterior display even in bright sunlight.
The masking layer in the exterior display may be formed by a black material (giving the display a black appearance in its off state). Alternatively, the masking layer may be a non-black color to provide a non-black appearance in the off state. As yet another option, the masking layer may have a high specular reflection. With this type of arrangement, ambient sunlight is reflected towards the ground (away from the viewer) to preserve display contrast and the display has a mirror-like appearance in the off state.
The exterior display may optionally include a color conversion layer, a filtering layer, and/or a supplemental diffuser layer. The exterior display may have a planar output surface (with corresponding planar display layers) or a non-planar output surface (with corresponding non-planar display layers).
Lastly, Apple notes that in general, the display (#16) may have any desired footprint (e.g., square, non-square rectangular, oval, etc.). The display may be used to display a symbol, an animation of a symbol, text, or any other desired content. Symbols may correspond to an intended action for the vehicle (e.g., a square when the vehicle is stopped or stopping, a triangle when the vehicle is moving without intending to stop) and/or instructions to nearby pedestrians (e.g., a raised hand when pedestrians should not cross in front of the vehicle, a walking person when pedestrians should cross in front of the vehicle, etc.).
Apple's patent application number 20230231090 that was publicly published last Thursday by USPTO was originally filed for in December 2022.
Some of the Team Members on this Apple Project
- Chris Child: Product Design Engineer (Autonomous Systems)
- Clarisse Mazuir: Lighting and sensors lead (Special Projects Group)
- Kurt Stiehl: Product Design Director (Special Projects Group)
- Bryce Wallis: Systems Integration
- Xiaofeng Tang: Product Design Engineer
- Yong Seok Choi: Engineer
- Yu sun: Software Engineer