An Apple Car could provide detailed warnings of its actions to other drivers by using LED screens all over the vehicle to tell other drivers what the self-driving system is doing.
Apple’s long-rumored vehicle will likely include self-driving technology. This is based on years of testing the vehicle on public roads. Apple’s testing appears to have been focused on responding to road conditions and reading them, but there are other aspects to driving that inbound systems must deal with.
Another problem is the difficulty of indicating what the vehicle is doing next to other drivers. If a driver encounters a vehicle without a driver, it may not be easy to see the driver’s silhouette ahead to get clues about where they are going.
In a patent granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday titled “Exterior Lighting and Warning System,” Apple proposes that it could be more explicit in what a self-driving system can tell other road users. Apple believes that it can perform the same task using more sophisticated lighting systems than the traditional array of indicator lights.
Apple’s system is essentially a series of displays that are placed around and on the vehicle. It could even be a continuous strip of lights. This display could provide information to other road users. It could include information such as brake applications or whether they want to travel left or right.
These messages can include more specific braking information, relative speeds of cars following, countdown times for actions, and other messages. These messages can be written or graphically and/or video.
The displays can be used to greet the driver when they park the car
Original filing date: October 24, 2018, patent. It lists the inventors of the patent as Clarisse Mazuit and Arthur Y. Zhang, Bivin J. Varghese and Christopher P. Child.
The latest patent is a follow-on from a previous patent of the same name, granted on October 30, 2018, with the same inventors. The original patent was for exterior-facing indicators signs. This patent covers the technology used to make them.
One version of this display is made up of LEDs that are placed on transparent substrates. It can be mounted on the body or the rear window. The transparent substrate will allow the display to be visible through the glass and only illuminated when the LEDs are lit.
Other ways to achieve the same effect include using light sources that emit light into a guide or a mirror to reflect light from the vehicle.
Apple files many patent applications each week. However, while patents indicate areas of interest to Apple’s research, development and testing efforts, they do not guarantee that the idea will be used in a future product.
This patent is not the only one Apple holds relating to light-centric car designs.
For the outside of the vehicle, Apple’s February 2020 patent for “System and method for light and image projection” offers a headlight that highlights part of the road that a driver should pay attention to, such as road signs or obstacles.
Inside the car, a privacy-based variable lighting system could combine narrow light band use with window filters that block specific light bands, allowing occupants to see each other, but prevents those outside the vehicle from seeing the illumination.
Apple has also mused about adding lighting systems in seats to tell passengers how to use seat controls and to instruct them to buckle up.