Historically, Apple has spent much less on R&D efforts than companies like Microsoft and Google. More recently, though, Apple has accelerated its R&D efforts in a significant fashion. As a point of reference, Apple in 2013 spent $4.5 billion on R&D initiatives. Just three years later, that figure jumped to $10 billion. Most recently, Apple’s R&D expenditures checked in at $3.7 billion during the June quarter alone.
So what’s all of that R&D money yielding? Well, it’s impossible to say at this point. As opposed to most tech companies, Apple doesn’t typically announce initiatives its working on until there’s something ready to ship. That said, Apple patent filings and hiring patterns tend to give us a glimpse into what Apple is working on behind the scenes. Perhaps the most notable example centers on Project Titan, Apple’s on-again, off-again effort to make some sort of push into the automotive space.
While Apple has reportedly scaled back its plan to develop its own branded car, Tim Cook last year coyly revealed that the company is still researching self-driving car technologies.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,’ Cook said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on. Autonomy is something that’s incredibly exciting for us and we’ll see where it takes us.”
That notwithstanding, Apple engineers are still exploring some cool and novel automotive ideas outside the realm of autonomous systems. As a prime example, Patently Apple recently unearthed an Apple patent published earlier this month which details an augmented reality windshield which, interestingly enough, might even enable passengers in different vehicles to initiate FaceTime calls.
Hardly a surprise, the patent details a vehicle that is jam-packed with an assortment of sensors.
Apple notes that the vehicle includes one or more sets of external sensors #116 which generate sensor data representations of one or more portions of the external environment.
The external sensors can include one or more of visible light camera devices, infrared camera devices, near-infrared camera devices, light beam scanning devices, ultrasonic sensor devices, audio sensor devices, depth camera devices, radar devices, geographic position detection devices, and some combination thereof.
Now will the ideas in the patent above ever see the light of day? It’s certainly too soon to tell at this point. Apple, after all, routinely patents myriads of technologies that never make it past the R&D stage. Still, Apple’s range of patents can sometimes telegraph where the company believes the future of technology is headed. You can check out a broad overview of Apple’s windshield patent over here.