Let the Apple Car rumors roll on. Apple has been granted a patent (number 10,495,480) for “automated travel lane recommendation” for an automobile in response to traffic conditions.
In the patent filing, Apple notes that vehicle safety improvements and the rise of interest in automated navigation and control of vehicles have led to the inclusion of different types of remote sensing equipment installed on vehicles. These sensors can include one or more radars, ultrasonic sensors, light beam scanning devices, visible light camera devices, infrared camera devices, near-infrared camera devices, and depth camera devices which can include one or more light-scanning devices, including LIDAR devices, etc. Automated navigation and control systems may process data collected by the sensors in order to detect and characterize objects in the environment for various purposes.
One purpose for detecting and characterizing objects in the environment is to increase efficiency and safety of travel, which can also reduce travel times, decrease fuel usage, reduce environmental pollution associated with vehicular travel, and decrease overall travel costs, among other potential benefits. However, Apple says that few systems attempt to address traffic flow concerns from the perspective of a particular vehicle.
Current technologies include GPS-based navigation applications that can display real-time traffic conditions to a vehicle operator; analyze traffic conditions, a vehicle destination, and mapping data; and recommend a travel route based on various user-configured or default preferences. Other technologies allow for detection of surrounding vehicles and other traffic obstacles, primarily with the intent to help prevent collisions, as in the case of blind-spot detection and warning devices and similar systems. Some modern cruise control systems, such as a typical “adaptive cruise control” system pursue a target vehicle speed and may adjust speed for safety purposes (e.g. to maintain a safe following distance). Apple says that none of these systems addresses traffic flow at a vehicle level, for example by directing an operator of a vehicle to a lane that is flowing more efficiently than the vehicle’s current travel lane. The tech giant is looking at methods to address this.
Here’s the summary of the patent: “Various embodiments include an automated travel lane recommendation implemented for a vehicle in response to traffic conditions in the vehicle’s vicinity, including characteristics of traffic flow of nearby lanes of travel. In some examples, sensors implemented as part of a vehicle collect data about available lanes and other vehicles and obstructions in the vicinity of the vehicle or along the vehicle’s route of travel.
“According to some examples, sensor fusion logic processes sensor data to calculate metrics associated with traffic conditions relevant to the vehicle. In some embodiments, a preferred travel lane for the vehicle is calculated using a combination of a cost function of traffic metrics with other available information. The preferred travel lane is presented to an operator or control system of the vehicle in some examples. Information, such as preferred lane information, cost function information, and traffic condition metrics is shared with other vehicles and devices, or stored to a database in some examples.”
Apple files for, and is granted, lots of patents. Many of them never see the light of day as finished products.