Amidst rumors that Apple is trying to partner up with an established automaker to manufacture an Apple-designed electric car, it’s probably not all that surprising that we’re seeing a noticeable uptick in the number of auto-related patents emanating out of Cupertino. Not long after we highlighted an Apple patent detailing a smart lighting system for an automotive interior comes word (via 9to5Mac) of yet a new patent which describes a novel use for infrared headlights.
The patent was initially filed in 2018 and is appropriately titled Nighttime Sensing. The patent relays that driving in low-light environments can present challenges for existing lighting systems given that the illumination level of headlights can be restricted by various regulations. In turn, this serves to limit the ability of drivers to see upcoming objects in the car’s path and subsequently reduce overall safety.
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Apple’s solution involves an infrared illuminator capable of capturing upcoming objects even at a distance of 650 feet away.
The patent reads in part:
A combination of multiple complimentary image sensing technologies may be employed to address the challenges of nighttime or low-light environment object detection and classification. For example, there may be looser or no restrictions on the illumination level of a near infrared illuminator mounted on a vehicle. A near infrared sensor with a near infrared illuminator can be configured to capture high resolution image information about objects in or near a path of the vehicle out to a significantly longer range (e.g., 200 meters) from the vehicle. This may enable earlier detection and classification of objects as the vehicle moves and improve safety and/or maximum speed. Near infrared illuminators may project near infrared light in a relatively narrow field of view (e.g., a 30-degree cone).
The techniques described herein may provide improvements over prior computer vision systems for automated vehicles. Some implementations may increase the effective range at which objects in or near the path of a vehicle may be detected and classified. Some implementations may more accurately classify objects in a low-light environment. Safety of an automated vehicle control system may be improved and/or the maximum safe speed in low-light environments may be increased.
As intriguing as this all is, it’s important to take these patents with a huge grain of salt — even though people have been hitting social media to discuss how this cool new tech is mind-blowing. Apple for over a decade now has seemingly made a point to patent every single new technology its engineers come with. And so while Apple’s patents have historically shed some light on upcoming Apple products and features, the vast majority of Apple patents never make their way into a shipping product.
The most recent rumblings about Apple’s rumored foray into the automotive industry point to Apple inking a deal with either Foxconn or Magna as a manufacturing partner. Apple reportedly engaged in preliminary talks with Kia and Hyundai about a manufacturing partnership, but those talks are said to have fallen through.
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