We know the Apple Car is coming, and we know that it’s going to be a complete electric vehicle and not just an autonomous driving system. However, there’s still a lot of speculation on exactly what the vehicle will look like and how bleeding-edge Apple — a company whose motto was once “Think Different” — plans to make its debut entry into the automotive market.
Not surprisingly, Apple has undoubtedly bandied around hundreds of ideas — former Design Chief Jony Ive once suggested it shouldn’t even have a steering wheel, and we’ve also seen patents for intelligent seats and crazy sunroofs — so it can be hard to separate the ideas that were simply “spitballing” from those that Apple’s Project Titan team may be seriously considering.
Another new example appeared this week of something different that Apple may be working on: retractable bumpers.
A new patent reported by AppleInsider, titled “Extendable bumpers for vehicles” outlines how a bumper could extend when the vehicle is in operation to offer the necessary safety features while retracting to allow for more flexible parking in tight spaces. How this would work, according to the patent, would be to employ an inflatable bladder behind the bumper that would allow it to move in and out from the vehicle.
In addition to allowing the bumper to retract, the use of an air cushion behind the bumper would also add a bit more impact protection, while also protecting the bumper itself from damage, since it would have more give on impact than a typical bumper.
In the description and illustrations in the patent filing, the bumper is movable between both fixed extended and retracted positions, with simple inflation of the air bladder pushing the bumper out, while Apple proposed that the bumper would be pulled back into the retracted position by a combination of deflating and something like a spring mechanism, allowing it to be retracted more quickly without requiring any additional effort. A flexible hinge would be placed at the edge to keep the bumper cover connected to the body of the vehicle.
The ability to retract the bumper would naturally be helpful for navigating tight spaces, including parallel parking as well as making tight turns when faced with walls or other obstacles. Knowing Apple, there may also be an aesthetic consideration here, allowing the Apple Car to look more sleek when parked.
Of course, the usual disclaimers about Apple patents apply here; the company patents a great many things that never see the light of day, either because they’re ideas that turn out to be impractical, or simply because they’re trying to lock things down for future consideration. This latest patent joins a list of numerous other ideas noted by AppleInsider, including battery-filled floors, reinforced wide-opening doors, smart seatbelts, and even a light-based privacy system.
Apple’s automotive ambitions have travelled down a long and winding road over the years, with the company’s original plans seeming to fall back to simply building an autonomous driving system for other manufacturers, and then more recently a series of layoffs from its Project Titan team as part of an ostensible “restructuring.” However, a spate of recent high-profile hires — the most recent of which included a Tesla engineer who has worked exclusively on electric powertrains — provides a pretty solid indication that Apple is back on the road to building a complete electric car under its own brand.