A newly-published Apple (AAPL) patent suggests car design remains an area of interest for the tech giant.
Just before 2019 came to a close, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple 61 new patents. Among those is a patent for a vehicle "passive safety system" that -- with the help of a sensor, a controller and a "motion control device" -- moves a seat's position when a collision is about to occur.
This is far from the first car design-related patent that Apple has been granted. Among other things, the company has previously received patents related to a sunroof system, a side-mirror system, a heads-up display that superimposes AR content on the windshield (echoes of Nvidia's (NVDA) AI Co-Pilot system) and a "dynamic seating system" that can be adjusted or made to vibrate by an in-car computer.
A patent grant is of course no guarantee that a technology will find its way into a future product. And while Apple has publicly confirmed its autonomous driving project and continues supporting its CarPlay platform for pairing iPhones with infotainment systems, it's far from clear that the company plans to launch a car of its own down the line.
Nonetheless, the fact that Apple engineers are taking the time and effort to develop a number of innovations that would be useful in the event the company decides to build a fully-fledged car can't be ignored.
Apple was also granted a slew of other interesting patents at year's end, including ones covering technologies that could be used within future iPhones, MacBooks, headphones, Apple Watches and AR glasses. Notable patent grants include:
- A patent for using eye-tracking to authenticate an AR headset-wearer's identity, and a patent for image error-concealment on head-mounted devices.
- A patent for creating "virtual speakers" that could allow a pair of physical speakers to simulate surround sound.
- A patent for "a monitoring system capable of measuring a plurality of vital signs." The system could feature sensors such as "electrodes, piezoelectric sensors, temperature sensors, and accelerometers," and could be able to both analyze a user's sleep and (interestingly) "adjust or control...environmental conditions to improve [a] user's sleep."
- A patent for a system that customizes the content that's provided on a video device (such as an Apple TV set-top box) for a particular user and provides access to the user's subscriptions, regardless of where the user is located.
- A patent for electronic devices featuring "flexible displays that are bent to form displays on multiple surfaces of the devices."
The last patent is one more sign that -- as OEMs such as Samsung and Huawei sell costly, first-generation, foldable phones in limited volumes -- Apple is doing some foldable phone R&D of its own. The company also received a foldable display-related patent in March 2019.
The headset-related patents, meanwhile, come two months after The Information and Bloomberg both reported that Apple plans to launch a pair of headsets in the coming years. Bloomberg indicated that "a combined VR and AR headset with a focus on gaming, watching video and virtual meetings" is expected to launch in either 2021 or 2022, and that "a lightweight pair of AR glasses" could arrive by 2023.