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Apple Reinvents the Safety Belt for Future Autonomous Vehicles



It seems we're in the era of making dumb things smarts and the Internet of things (IoT) market is all about that. Smart fridges, TVs, vehicles, you name it. Apple's engineers filed for a patent taking a single function safety belt and turned it into a device that can control various aspects of the vehicle by using gestures on the belt.  


Today Apple was granted this surprise patent that snuck under the public's radar. It may have done so by being a patent Apple inherited from Metaio, as all three engineers came to Apple from the Metaio acquisition. Two of the three engineers work in Apple's Augmented Reality, Computer Vision and Machine Learning team.


Apple's granted patent 10,189,434 relates to a vehicle's safety belt being augmented with additional functionality.


In Apple's patent background they note that in the automotive field, recent vehicle designs have implemented features intended to enhance the experience of drivers and passengers. As an example, on-board entertainment systems have evolved from simple radio receivers to sophisticated multi-function devices that include navigation functions, multimedia file playback functions, video display functions, and telephone communication functions.


As another example, comfort amenities available in some vehicles include heated seats, cooled seats, and seats with massaging capabilities.


Future developments, such as autonomous driving modes, will further increase user demand for an enhanced in-vehicle experience. As an example, autonomous driving functions are in the early stages of user adoption.


Upon development and adoption of fully autonomous driving modes, users will be able to treat travel time as leisure time, and participate in leisure activities such as communicating with other persons or consuming media content.


Apple's invention covers an augmented safety belt system (restraint system) that includes a first restraint operable to secure a first passenger. The first restraint has an exposed surface facing away from a body of the first passenger. A gesture-sensing device is disposed on the exposed surface of the first restraint and is operable to receive an input from the first passenger.


The augmented safety restraint includes a passenger securing structure and a display device connected to the passenger securing structure and operable to display visual content in response to an input signal.


2 Apple reinvents the Safety Belt FIGS. 4 TO 10


Apple's patent FIG. 4 above presents a block diagram showing an overview of an augmented safety restraint (safety belt system).


Touch-Based Haptic Communication Feature


Apple's patent FIG. 5 above shows a touch-based or haptic communication feature. Sensed touches or gestures can be used to control vehicle systems including vehicle features and amenities. The secured passenger can tap, swipe, or gesture in a pre-defined manner either directly on or in the vicinity of the gesture-sensing device in order to perform such vehicle functions as changing window height, seat position, radio volume, etc. The sensed touches or gestures can similarly be used to control or interact with vehicle-connected devices to perform functions such as answering or rejecting incoming phone calls or controlling a multimedia player.


In-Vehicle Audio & Communication Features


Apple's patent FIG. 6 shows audio communication features for an augmented safety restraint. Noise (e.g., from vehicle operation, the radio, the external environment, other passengers talking, etc.) can impede communication within a vehicle.


The quality of audio input/output signals can be improved using integrated audio capture and playback devices such as microphones and speakers based on the devices' proximity to the passenger's mouth and ears, respectively.


Integrated microphones may be used to monitor the passenger for stress/emotional well-being based on tone of voice in addition to being able to enhance the quality of vocal commands conveyed to the vehicle and improving hands-free phone communications.


Integrated speakers can be used to direct phone or vehicle-based communications to the passenger in addition to directing audio from multimedia components to the passenger.


This feature may be used when playing an interactive game or when telling a story by transforming the voice of the passenger to match the voice of a character.


Sensors, Biometrics and Blood-Alcohol Monitor


Apple's patent FIG. 7 shows a monitoring feature for an augmented safety restraint that are able to measure properties of the passenger and/or the environment.


In some embodiments, the sensors are operable to measure the vital signs of the secured passenger including heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, CO level, blood alcohol content, etc.


This information can be used to document the passenger's health status, stress level, and emotional well-being for various purposes (e.g., diagnostic, research, investigations, etc.) and falls into the category of activities meant to monitor driver/passenger physical status.


Comfort Feature: Thermal Functionality


Apple's patent FIG. 8 shows a passenger-comfort feature for an augmented safety restraint which can include thermal functionality which, complementing the seat heating or cooling, can increase passenger comfort in both hot and cold conditions. For example, heating/cooling devices are integrated within the manufacturing material and along the length of the augmented safety restraint.


Display System Controls


Apple's patent FIG. 9 shows a display feature for an augmented safety restraint that is attached to, for example, a display found on the back of a front seat. The integration of a display allows both passenger-vehicle and passenger-passenger interaction. The system could also work to control displays on Apple devices so that passengers could communicate hands free.


Photovoltaic Devices


Lastly, Apple's patent FIG. 10 shows us an energy-generation feature for an augmented safety restraint that is attached to a seat that can include, a photoelectric capability in the form of energy-producing photovoltaic device.


The photovoltaic devices can be exposed to the sun when the vehicle is parked, stored or operating outside. The photovoltaic devices allow for the production of energy in order to power the various features of the augmented safety restraint system.


In some embodiments, electrical energy produced by the photovoltaic devices is stored in a battery that is integrated into or associated with the augmented safety restraint.


The energy-generation feature can have a positive impact on the vehicle's energy efficiency (due to the null impact on the vehicle battery during the daytime) and, consequently, on the environment.


In March 2018 Patently Apple posted a report titled: "Patent of the Decade: Apple Reveals an Unbelievable VR Experience System for Next-Gen Autonomous Vehicles.


Today's granted patent is in sync with Apple's vision for autonomous vehicles that will one day be used as entertainment environments within vehicles that are designed to chauffeur you to your every destination. This is one of the many advantages of 5G + coming to market.


3 Autonomous Vehicle related image from Apple patent in 2018  Patently Apple report


10.52 - Granted Patent Bar


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