Apple patent filing involves autonomous vehicle motion control

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20180089563) involving “decision making for autonomous vehicle motion control.” It probably involves an advanced version of CarPlay, since I don’t think Apple will ever product an entire “Apple Car.”

Compatible with the 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.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that vehicles that are capable of sensing their environment and navigating to destinations with little or no ongoing input from occupants ("autonomous" or “self-driving”) are an increasing focus of research and development. Until relatively recently, due to the limitations of the available hardware and software, the maximum speed at which computations for analyzing relevant aspects of the vehicle's external environment could be performed was insufficient to enable non-trivial navigation decisions to be made without human guidance. 

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Apple says that, even with today's fast processors, large memories, and advanced algorithms, the task of making timely and reasonable decisions (which are based neither on excessively pessimistic assumptions, nor on excessively optimistic assumptions) regarding an autonomous vehicle's trajectory in the context of unpredictable behaviors of other entities (such as other drivers or other autonomous vehicles) and incomplete or noisy data about the vehicle's environment in real-world traffic remains a significant challenge. The tech giant thinks its invention, should it ever see the light of day, would help manage the trajectories or motions of an autonomous vehicle.

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “A behavior planner for a vehicle generates a plurality of conditional action sequences of the vehicle using a tree search algorithm and heuristics obtained from one or more machine learning models. Each sequence corresponds to a sequence of anticipated states of the vehicle. At least some of the action sequences are provided to a motion selector of the vehicle. The motion selector generates motion-control directives based on the received conditional action sequences and on data received from one or more sensors of the vehicle, and transmits the directives to control subsystems of the vehicle.”

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.