Apple Files Patent for AR Tech That Can ‘See’ Hidden Roads and Cars

Mercedes Self Driving Car Augmented Reality

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Apple’s continued work on self-driving car platforms may overlap with another of the company’s initiatives: augmented reality.

A new patent application, published late last month by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, lays out several ways that an augmented reality platform could help users riding or operating a self-driving vehicle.

About the Patent

The patent describes an AR system that could be displayed on a heads-up display in the vehicle’s windshield. The system could overlay graphics and imagery onto that display to show users information and details about the road ahead, even if that road is hidden from the driver’s current view.

Much of that 3D content could be pre-generated and might include upcoming points of interest on a highway and various road routes. But it could be updated and supplemented with data collected in real-time by the self-driving car’s sensors. All of that data could be combined with objects actually in a driver’s field-of-view to paint a better picture of the road ahead.

There are some interesting use cases for the technology described in the patent, too.

  • If driving in a dense urban area, the AR system could track a vehicle. If that vehicle turns behind a building and disappears from view, the heads-up display could overlay a graphic model of the vehicle, showing where it might be.
  • Similarly, if a user is driving in fog, snow or otherwise poor visibility, the AR display could show a user the actual path of the road ahead — even if it’s not in view.

Of course, the system could benefit the underlying self-driving platforms, too. If the autonomous system knows the path it’s following and what to expect in advance, it might have more time to react to emergency situations. That could result in overall safer self-driving cars.

Apple’s Work in AR / Autonomous Vehicles

Self-driving car technology and augmented reality are both increasing fields of interest for the Cupertino tech giant.

Apple has long been rumored to be working on automobile-based technology, and in recent years, that focus has narrowed to autonomous systems. Currently, Apple reportedly fields the largest fleet of self-driving vehicles among tech companies — it currently operates about 45 autonomous vehicles in California.

Earlier this year, the company was granted several other patents concerning autonomous and self-driving systems.

Augmented reality is also a key area for the firm. Last year, Apple brought the nascent technology to its iOS platform with the release of ARKit. And it’s rumored to be developing a breakthrough AR wearable.

The interesting part is how these fields overlap. Just a few days ago, Apple was granted a patent for a virtual reality system that could transform a commute in a self-driving vehicle into an immersive virtual experience.

As always, there’s no guarantee that the tech in an Apple patent will ever hit the market. Similarly, there’s no indication of a launch timeline for the systems. But with the range and pace of recent developments, it’s safe to say that Apple is doubling down on its self-driving and AR technology.

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