Apple has filed a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that provides some insight into how the company plans to tackle navigation. The patent explains how Apple intends to make autonomous driving more efficient by reducing the need to constantly remake detailed maps. It also serves of further confirmation of Apple's plan to compete in the autonomous vehicle category—this is Apple's first patent in the self-driving car field.
In the patent, Apple explains that today's autonomous vehicles use a combination of static information, such as detail maps of various routes, and real-time data captured by sensors as a self-driving car proceeds on a route. According to Apple, this is less than ideal, in part because of the "extensive expenditures of time and effort" involved in developing the necessary data needed for each and every route.
"Developing sufficient data for an individual route can require dispatching a suite of sensors... to traverse a route and collect data regarding the various features included in the route, processing the collected data to develop a 'map' of the route, determining appropriate driving rules for various portions of the route, and repeating the process for each of the individual routes included in the map," Apple explains.
Apple also says that changing roadway conditions due to weather, construction, accidents, and seasonal occurrences can throw a wrinkle into things, further complicating the system.
It's a long winded application, but the gist of Apple's patent is a computerized model that would use sensors and other hardware modules inside the vehicle to guide it "independently of any data received from any devices external to the vehicle, and nay navigation data stored to the vehicle prior to any monitoring of navigation.
Apple's interest in self-driving cars has long been known, with it's efforts becoming a bit more public as of late. Earlier this year, for example, Apple obtained an autonomous vehicle test permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. And just a couple of weeks ago, Apple's director of AI, Rusian Salakhutdinov, spoke at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference about the company's AI projects, several of which were related to autonomous driving pursuits.
It is a hot field that has attracted several tech titans, including Intel, which plans to take risks in the autonomous driving categories (and other growth markets) going forward. As for Apple's ultimate end-game, whether it's to develop its own car or focus entirely on technologies that it can license out to other players, remains to be seen.