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Apple car light strip could warn other drivers of hard braking incidents and other important events

A concept image of an Apple-produced car

An Apple-produced car could advise vehicles following behind it of the risk of collision if they are too close, as part of a lighting system for the outside of the vehicle that can offer warnings and information to other road users.

Traditionally, lights on the front and rear of a vehicle offer up basic information, such as if the car is braking or is indicating an intention to make a turn. While this has been adequate enough for many years, Apple seems to think it can be improved upon by offering more data.

Granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, the patent for "Exterior Lighting and Warning System" explains one such way of providing information to other road users. Rather than just offering a few lights, Apple envisions a strip of LED lights in reflectors that goes around the vehicle, as well as other light-up sections on the rear, to offer up more information.

Apple says it is not only limited to LEDs in reflectors, as practically any light-based technology could be used for the purpose, including edge-lit or backlit light guides, OLED and LCD display panels, and light modulators based on liquid crystals.

An example of a light strip surrounding a vehicle on all sides
An example of a light strip surrounding a vehicle on all sides

One example offered by the patent is that it could be used to warn following drivers how far the brakes have engaged in the vehicle. A light touch could illuminate the usual brake lights, while a medium pressure could also light up the light strip, and full-on braking could make more sections light up, such as making the rear window appear red.

The strip and light-up areas are not limited to a single color, as they could be capable of displaying symbols, text, numbers, and other patterns in a variety of different colors. This could offer up more information that may be useful for others, such as vehicle speed, relative speed between the car and a following vehicle, the status information of an autonomous driving system, other vehicle status messages, or even user-customized patterns.

Not only can the lighting system be used to inform others, but it could also be used to communicate with the driver when the car is parked. Greetings and goodbye messages could be shown when the user is walking up to, or departing, the vehicle, with the messages and other important data just shown on the side of the vehicle where the user is located.

A proposed increase in lighting at the rear of the car under different levels of braking
A proposed increase in lighting at the rear of the car under different levels of braking

This is not the first time Apple has considered the possibility of using exterior notifications to warn other users. A patent granted in August for a "System and method for visual communication of an operational state" describes similar notifications via external displays on the back and front of a car, advising of what a self-driving system is intending to do in the near future.

Along with signs, the patent also suggested the use of projections onto the road, to show where the car intends to move when changing lanes, or its movements when parking or reversing.

Apple has made numerous car-related patent applications, which are all thought to be under the banner of "Project Titan," originally intended for the development of an Apple-branded vehicle but has since been refocused to just self-driving systems. Apple operates a fleet of vehicles for testing its project, and is also believed to be working with Volkswagen on the PAIL program, which intends to ferry employees between offices using autonomous vans.

As with all other patents and applications, the existence of Apple filings with the USPTO is not a guarantee that it will appear in a future Apple product or service. It is best to take such filings as an indication of fields Apple is interested in working within.

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