Freshly Published Patent Keeps the Dream of an Apple Self-Driving Car Alive

Graphic: Gizmodo

Bumpy car rides suck and a newly published patent reveals Apple has fairly recently been exploring a “fully-actuated suspension system” using variable pressure air springs and a haptic-feedback system to create a smoother ride.

The patent was originally filed in March 2016 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and originates from Apple’s Project Titan division. It was finally published this week. The filing features a lot of technical gobbledygook, but in essence, it describes a suspension system that can “compensate for vehicle oscillations at frequencies below the primary ride frequency,” which would in turn potentially reduce motion sickness. It also details improvements to its braking and suspension for a generally smoother ride.

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Image: US PTO

That’s all well and good, but one of the more interesting parts of the patent is a section where Apple details a haptic feedback system. The filing notes that its particular actuation system could relay specific information to a driver that could improve situational awareness. For instance, because each of the car’s wheels can be actuated, a driver might get haptic feedback about which direction to turn. The patent also provides an example where a car’s sensors may be able to detect oncoming vehicles, or crossing pedestrians and deliver feedback to the driver.

So is Apple truly serious about developing tech for cars? Possibly, it’s own self-driving car? Perhaps. Tech giants file patents all the time for innovations that may never see the light of day, and Apple is no exception. Earlier in January, Apple laid off more than 200 employees working on Project Titan—its secretive self-driving car initiative. That layoff was reported to be part of a restructuring. Then, back in April, Apple was again reported to be hunting for a better self-driving car sensor.

The question at hand here isn’t whether Apple is interested in cars. It’s whether it’s working to build a so-called “iCar”, or just looking to develop software. The layoffs seemed to hint at the latter, while the purported search for better sensors suggests the former. Meanwhile, recent reports that Apple is building large driving rooms for testing indicate that maybe the company hasn’t truly given up on building its own car after all. At this point, however, it’s all speculation. The only people who really know are probably laughing at the rest of us in a bunker somewhere in Cupertino.

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[USPTO via Apple Insider]

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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.