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In a patent application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, Apple describes a system that can automatically customize a car's seat, steering wheel, and mirror positioning, as well as home climate control, based on information from a single device like an iPhone.
Apple's patent filing for "Automatic configuration of self-configurable environments" covers a system that uses a portable consumer device to automatically adjust configurable objects to a user's preferences, with or without interaction from said user.
The filing offers an example of a "self-configurable environment" as being the cockpit of an automobile. In many cars, seats, mirrors, steering wheel and other functions are mechanized, with some able to store a driver's personal preferences to an on-board computer. This way, two or more drivers who share a car don't have to hassle with resetting the above controls each time they enter the vehicle.
As Apple's invention notes, while such self-configurable environments are convenient, they are rarely transportable. To solve this apparent problem, the patent application details a method of using a portable device, such as an iPhone, to take environment configuration information on-the-go. The technology could allow for an iPhone to become a universal configuration tool for the world around its user.
The document focuses mainly on the car, which is understandable given the level of environment customization implemented by a number of auto makers. In one embodiment, the portable device acts connects with the car's computer to relay a set of custom options stored by the user. For example, a user could store their personal preferences onto a portable device, and when that device enters a car, it will send the appropriate configuration information.
Aside from the basic seat positioning information, the patent filing goes further and describes an embodiment that can adjust components in a car based on angle measurements, driver positioning, and other metrics. Driving the advanced configuration is "environment-translation software" that would run on a user's device, adjusting options based on measurements taken by the car. Such a system would be useful in the case of car rentals, or new car purchases, the application notes.
In other embodiments, house or hotel climate controls, television, lighting and other home automation settings are briefly covered. Though sparse on details, it can be imagined that a portable device would be able to control an entertainment system, air conditioning, and other connected appliances.
While Apple's invention would rely heavily on the cooperation of third-party manufacturers to build out the robust ecosystem required to facilitate such a system, the benefits to the user would be substantial. The company is already rolling out a type of configuration method in iOS in the Car, though it has already seen pushback from car manufacturers hesitant to implement the solution in their infotainment systems.
Apple's automatic environment configuration patent application was first filed for in 2012 and credits Thomas Ethan Lowry as its inventor.