Apple Wins a Surprising Peloton Configured Autonomous Truck System that could one day Challenge the Tesla Semi
The cover graphic for this report is that of the Tesla Semi, an all-electric battery-powered Class 8 semi-trailer truck prototype which was unveiled on November 16, 2017 and planned for production in 2019 by Tesla, Inc. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the Semi would come standard with Tesla Autopilot that allows semi-autonomous driving on highways.
Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent titled "Peloton." It too is about an autonomous truck system traveling with an attached secondary vehicle in a vehicular peloton along a roadway. The secondary vehicle connected to the main vehicle is to provide a computer system and more importantly a secondary backup battery system to ensure the truck isn't stuck looking for a power station to charge up.
While the patent gives the impression that it's about a larger Semi type truck, especially because of one of Apple's inventor's focus is on trucks, technically the patent could cover a regular family truck that is connected to a family trailer or car connected to a camper on a long family trip.
Apple notes that the rise of interest in autonomous navigation of vehicles, including automobiles, has resulted in a desire to develop autonomous navigation systems which can autonomously navigate (i.e., autonomously "drive") a vehicle through various routes, including one or more roads in a road network, such as contemporary roads, streets, highways, etc. Such autonomous navigation systems can control one or more automotive control elements of the vehicle to implement such autonomous navigation. Such control by the autonomous navigation system in a vehicle can be referred to as autonomous driving control of the vehicle.
In some cases, a navigation range of a vehicle from a given location is at least partially restricted by the internal energy storage of the vehicle, which can include fuel, electrical power, etc., which are consumed by one or more engines included in the vehicle to cause the vehicle to move.
While a vehicle can stop at a refueling station, recharging station, etc. to replenish internal stored energy to extend the navigation range of the vehicle, such stops can extend the duration of a trip. In addition, in some cases, such stations may be at least partially absent from a driving route along which the vehicle is navigated, thereby complicating navigation of the vehicle to a destination location which is beyond an initial navigation range of the vehicle.
For example, where a vehicle includes electrical motors which move the vehicle via consumption of electrical power, replenishment of internal stored energy can include navigating the vehicle to an electrical charging station, but such stations may be absent along the present driving route of the vehicle, and recharging at such a station, even if located along the route, can be time consuming.
Apple's invention provides an apparatus which includes a vehicle configured to be autonomously navigated in a vehicular peloton along a roadway, wherein the vehicular peloton comprises at least the vehicle and at least one additional vehicle.
The vehicle includes a vehicle navigation system. The vehicle navigation system, based on a comparison of driving ranges of each of the vehicle and the at least one additional vehicle, determines a particular configuration of the vehicular peloton, which comprises a particular peloton position in which the vehicle is navigated relative to the at least one additional vehicle, which reduces a difference of the relative driving ranges of at least the vehicle and the at least one additional vehicle as a result of different aerodynamic drag associated with different peloton positions in the particular configuration of the vehicular peloton.
The vehicle navigation system also generates a set of control commands which cause the vehicle to be navigated in the vehicular peloton at the particular peloton position.
Some embodiments provide an apparatus which includes a vehicle power management system, installed in a vehicle, which electrically couples at least one battery installed in the vehicle to at least one power source installed in at least one additional vehicle while the vehicle is navigating along a roadway.
The vehicle power management system includes a power connector, coupled to an end of a power cable electrically coupled to at least one internal battery installed in the vehicle, which couples with a power connector interface installed in the at least one additional vehicle, and a power connector arm which extends the power connector from a retracted position in the vehicle, and across a spacing distance between the vehicle and the at least one additional vehicle, to couple the power connector to the power connector interface.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrates a schematic block diagram of a vehicle which includes a vehicle navigation system and at least one power connection assembly.
The vehicle navigation system (VNS) can control various control elements based on driving control commands generated at one or more user interfaces, navigation control modules, etc. The VNS, in some embodiments, is configured to autonomously generate autonomous driving control commands which control various control elements of the vehicle to autonomously navigate the vehicle along one or more driving routes.
Vehicle #100 will be understood to encompass one or more vehicles of one or more various configurations which can accommodate one or more occupants, including, without limitation, one or more automobiles, trucks, vans, etc.
The vehicle can include one or more interior cabins ("vehicle interiors") configured to accommodate one or more human occupants (e.g., passengers, drivers, etc.), which are collectively referred to herein as vehicle "occupants."
A vehicle interior can include one or more user interfaces 115, including one or more manual driving control interfaces (e.g., steering device, throttle control device, brake control device), display interfaces, multimedia interfaces, climate control interfaces, some combination thereof, or the like.
Apple's granted patent FIG. 2 above illustrates a schematic block diagram of a plurality of communicatively coupled vehicles navigating along a roadway in a vehicular peloton, according to some embodiments. The vehicles illustrated in FIG. 2 can include any of the embodiments of vehicles included herein, including vehicle 100 illustrated in FIG. 1 further above.
In some embodiments, multiple vehicles 210A-D can be navigated along a roadway #200 in a serial configuration in a common roadway lane #202, referred to herein as a peloton, vehicular peloton, etc.
In Apple's patent FIG. 4A illustrates a schematic block diagram of a vehicle in a peloton which is electrically coupled via a power connector of a vehicle power management system of a vehicle being coupled to a power connector interface of another adjacent vehicle in the peloton,
As shown, vehicles #400 and #450 each include respective internal batteries #410, #460 which can be electrically coupled to control elements of the respective vehicles, including motors, such that the respective batteries of the respective vehicles each supply power to the respective control elements of the respective vehicles to cause the respective vehicles to navigate along a driving route, including navigate in the peloton.
For truckers on a long haul, the added battery system is to also support creature comforts of the drivers to enjoy TV, a gaming console, a computer and much more.
Technically, Apple notes that the system could apply to other vehicles such as vans and cars. Perhaps for a car or smaller truck it could be that the attached vehicle is a camper or trailer for long distances.
Apple notes that "the vehicle can include one or more interior cabins ("vehicle interiors") configured to accommodate one or more human occupants (e.g., passengers, drivers, etc.), which are collectively referred to herein as vehicle "occupants." A vehicle interior can include one or more user interfaces, including one or more manual driving control interfaces (e.g., steering device, throttle control device, brake control device, display interfaces, multimedia interfaces, climate control interfaces, some combination thereof, or the like."
Whether Apple will simply license the technology or develop such a peloton vehicle with a partner in the future is unknown at this time.
Will it actually challenge the Tesla Semi? Who knows, but the byline is to attract those interested in the field of autonomous trucks in particular and general vehicles overall.
Apple's granted patent 10,108,202 was filed in Q3 2016 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Apple's Granted Patent Inventors
The first inventor on Apple's granted patent is Randol Aikin, PhD who worked on Special Projects at Apple. One part of his LinkedIn Profile states: "Building Self-Driving Trucks; and then proving that they work." He left last year to work at Uber and then IKE which is an autonomous truck startup.
The second inventor on the patent is Malcolm Northcott, a Sensor Systems Engineer at Apple.
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