Apple patents hint at future plans for CarPlay and Maps

Apple has been granted two patents that hint at future features of its CarPlay tech and Maps app. Compatible with iPhone 5 and later models, CarPlay provides a simplified way to use your iPhone interface on a car’s touch screen, giving users access to Siri voice controls, as well as Apple Maps, Apple Music, Phone, Messages, and a variety of third party apps.

Patent number 20170236420 is for a “wireless vehicle system for enhancing situational awareness.” In the patent filing Apple notes that vehicles are often provided with safety equipment such as parking sensors, lane departure warning equipment, and blind-spot detection systems. A parking sensor can be used to alert a driver when a vehicle is nearly in contact with a parked car or other stationary object, but has limited range and can’t be used to increase safety when a vehicle is being driven on a highway. 

Lane departure warning equipment can sense when a driver has started to drift into an adjacent lane, but doesn’t warn the driver about vehicles in the adjacent lane. Blind spot detection systems can use radar or an infrared sensor to monitor a driver's blind spot, but do not offer complete coverage of areas around the driver's vehicle and provide no information to the driver on the nature of intrusions into the driver's blind spot. 

Apple says it “would be desirable to be able to provide improved systems for providing drivers in vehicles with enhanced situational awareness when driving on a road.” The tech giant’s patent involves electronic equipment in vehicles that may transmit and receive wireless messages. Each wireless message that is transmitted by a transmitter may include information on the vehicle from which it is being transmitted, information on the location of the transmitter within the vehicle, and other vehicle status information. 

Receiving equipment in vehicles may be used to receive the transmitted messages. Received signal strength indicator information may be associated with the transmitted messages. Using the received signal strength indicator information and information on the locations of the transmitters within the vehicles in which the transmitters are installed, equipment in a receiving vehicle may determine locations for nearby vehicles. Alerts may be presented to a driver of a vehicle and other suitable actions may be taken based on the locations of nearby vehicles, vehicle type information, and other information regarding traffic in the vicinity of the driver.

Patent number 20170234690 is for “simplified audio navigation instructions” and, apparently, involves the Maps app for iOS, watchOS and macOS devices. Per the invention, a mobile device (most likely an iPhone) can be configured to provide simplified audio navigation instructions. The simplified audio navigation instructions can provide a reduced set of audio navigation instructions so that the audio instructions are only presented to the user when the user wishes to or needs to hear the instructions. 

A user can enable the simplified audio navigation instructions. The simplified audio navigation instructions can be enabled automatically. The simplified audio navigation instructions can be configured with rules for when to present audio navigation instructions. 

For example, the rules can specify that audio navigation instructions are to be provided for complex road segments, a user defined portion of a route, or specified road types, among other criteria. The mobile device can be configured with exceptions to the rules such that audio navigation instructions can be presented when the user has, for example, deviated from a defined route.

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.