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Patent Hints At Apple Car System That Communicates With Other Vehicles

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No matter how many times Tim Cook reiterates that Apple’s not-so-secretive Project Titan is about developing autonomous driving systems, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that it’s about more than just the self-driving technology. There is little clarity on when the Apple car system would become available to the public, and in what form. The Cupertino company seems to be testing all the different possibilities at this point.

Will these sensors become part of the Apple car system?

A patent published (via CNBC) by the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) on Thursday shows that Apple has some interesting ideas for Bluetooth sensors that could significantly reduce the number of car crashes. The sensors described in the patent continuously scan the surroundings and communicate with other vehicles, sensors, and a GPS system.

Apple Car Project
Image Credit: Apple / USPTO (screenshot)

The wireless sensors will update your car’s dashboard display to show you any potential obstacles such as the passing cars and ambulances. The patent was originally filed on February 28, 2017. It lists Devrim Varoglu and Ravisastry Parupudi as inventors. Apple described it as an advanced version of parking sensors and blind-spot detection systems rather than as an autonomous driving technology.

Apple Car System
Image Credit: Apple / USPTO (screenshot)

The tech giant files hundreds of patents every year, and most of them never make their way into the final products. It is too early to say whether these sensors will become part of the Apple car system. Apple is not the first company to explore the idea of vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Broadcom has been working on similar technologies for years. Qualcomm has also developed many such solutions, reports CNBC.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems could prevent “hundreds of thousands of crashes.” The NHTSA says it could “prevent or reduce the severity of up to 80%” of non-alcohol-related car crashes. In December last year, Apple was granted the patent for a collision-avoidance system.

Project Titan’s journey so far

Tim Cook said in an interview with Bloomberg recently that Apple was investing heavily in developing the autonomous driving systems instead of building Apple-branded cars. He has described the self-driving systems as the “mother of all AI projects.” The Cupertino company already has an operating system called CarPlay for cars. CarPlay could play a major role in Apple’s automobile ambitions, especially with the advancement in self-driving technology.

At one point, Apple had hired more than a thousand engineers to work on a full-fledged car. After facing several obstacles and the departure of key employees, Apple appointed long-time veteran Bob Mansfield as the head of the Project Titan. Since taking over in July last year, Mansfield has shifted the project’s focus to developing the autonomous driving technology first.

It will leave the door open for building a car in-house at a later stage or partnering with an existing automaker to build a full-fledged car. The tech giant has been testing its autonomous Apple car system on California roads for months. In April this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) granted Apple permission to test its self-driving systems on public roads.

Apple is using six modified Lexus SUVs for testing. Interestingly, the tech giant hasn’t purchased the Lexus vehicles. It has leased them from Donlen, the fleet management unit of Hertz. It has sparked speculations that the rise of autonomous driving technology could open up new opportunities for car rental companies like Hertz. They have extensive experience in buying, selling, and managing large fleets of vehicles. Thanks to their nation-wide network of locations, they could run and maintain the fleets of autonomous cars in the future.

Apple and CATL jointly developing EV batteries

Last month, Chinese site Yicai Global reported that Apple was working secretly with a Chinese company called Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL). The two are jointly developing batteries for electric vehicles. It indicates that Apple is also working on other components of the Apple car system besides autonomous driving. CATL has signed a confidentiality agreement, which prevents it from talking about the joint project publicly.

Battery capacity is one the biggest challenges in building an electric vehicle. CATL already makes batteries for electric cars, electric buses, and electric trucks. Having tripled its production capacity last year, CATL plans to scale up its battery output to 50GWh by 2020. It has also developed a fast-charging technology that could charge an EV battery from zero to 90% within 15 minutes.

A complete transportation experience

The partnership with CATL indicates that Apple is not going to stop just with autonomous driving. It has already invested $1 billion in Didi Chuxing, one of the world’s largest ride-hailing companies. All these developments make it difficult to figure out what the outcome of the Project Titan would be. It could be an Apple-branded EV that would rival Tesla. Or it could just be an autonomous driving system. Or it could be a complete transportation platform that will redefine our transportation experience.

Apple is obsessed with controlling all the aspects of its products. It builds both software and hardware for its iPhones, iPads, and Macs to offer the best possible user experience. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas says the development of the Apple car system might seem fragmented at this point, but Apple will eventually put all the pieces together to offer you a complete transportation experience.

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