Apple wants self-driving vehicles to be able to recharge each other

Apple has filed for yet another patent (number 20190049996) involving an autonomous vehicle. Dubbed “peloton” (a group or pack of vehicles) it involves at least two self-driving vehicles traveling together. As with a previous patent filing (number 10,108,202) it would allow one car to charge another even if both are moving.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that the rise of interest in autonomous navigation of vehicles, including automobiles, has resulted in a desire to develop autonomous navigation systems which can autonomously navigate a vehicle through various routes, including one or more roads in a road network, such as contemporary roads, streets, highways, etc. Such autonomous navigation systems can control one or more automotive control elements of the vehicle to implement such autonomous navigation. 

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Apple says that, in some cases, a navigation range of a vehicle from a given location is at least partially restricted by the internal energy storage of the vehicle, which can include fuel, electrical power, etc., which are consumed by one or more engines included in the vehicle to cause the vehicle to move. While a vehicle can stop at a refueling station, recharging station, etc. to replenish internal stored energy to extend the navigation range of the vehicle, such stops can extend the duration of a trip. 

In addition, in some cases, such stations may be at least partially absent from a driving route along which the vehicle is navigated, thereby complicating navigation of the vehicle to a destination location which is beyond an initial navigation range of the vehicle. For example, where a vehicle includes electrical motors which move the vehicle via consumption of electrical power, replenishment of internal stored energy can include navigating the vehicle to an electrical charging station, but such stations may be absent along the present driving route of the vehicle, and recharging at such a station, even if located along the route, can be time consuming. 

This is why Apple thinks it would be great if one car could recharge another.

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: "A vehicle configured to be autonomously navigated in a peloton along a roadway, wherein the peloton comprises at least the vehicle at least one additional vehicle, is configured to determine a position of the vehicle in the peloton which reduces differences in relative driving ranges among the vehicles included in the peloton. The vehicles can dynamically adjust peloton positions while navigating to reduce driving range differences among the vehicles. 

“The vehicle can include a power management system which enables the vehicle to be electrically coupled to a battery included in another vehicle in the peloton, so that driving range differences between the vehicles can be reduced via load sharing via the electrical connection. The vehicle can include a power connector arm which extends a power connector to couple with an interface of another 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.