Apple has filed for a patent for “gesture based control of autonomous vehicles,” which will doubtless only fuel speculation on an “Apple Car.”
In the patent filing, Apple notes that motorized vehicles which are capable of sensing their environment and navigating to destinations with little or no ongoing input from occupants, and may therefore be referred to as "autonomous" or "self-driving" vehicles, are an increasing focus of research and development. Given the multiplicity of choices that are typically available with respect to vehicle trajectories in real-world environments, occupant input or guidance with regard to selecting vehicle trajectories (without requiring traditional steering, braking, accelerating and the like) may be extremely valuable to the motion control components of such vehicles.
However, Apple says that providing interfaces for such guidance which are intuitive and easy to use may “present a non-trivial challenge.” The company’s solution? A display is populated with representations of one or more options for operations associated with the vehicle.
Based at least in part on an analysis of one or more signals generated by the occupant, a particular option is selected for implementation. An indication that the particular option has been selected is provided, and an operation corresponding to the particular option is initiated.
Detecting that a “triggering condition” has been met may itself comprise analyzing or matching a particular hand or body gesture made by the individual within an “interaction zone” (a three-dimensional region near the occupant, whose boundaries may be customizable) in some embodiments. Other modes of initiating an interaction session are voice commands and gaze directions.
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.
On a related note, Apple's fleet of self-driving vehicles has almost doubled over the past two months, according to the Financial Times (which requires a subscription). The article says that, based on figures provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the tech giant now has permits for 45 autonomous vehicles, up from 27 in January.
As the Sellers Research Group (that’s me) has long said, I don't think that Apple will actually build its own automobiles, but will work with other manufactures to implement technologies such as enhanced CarPlay into their vehicles.