Apple is continuing to come up with new designs for essential elements of a car, potentially as part of its "Project Titan" vehicular efforts, with ideas surrounding how to improve the floor assemblies and doors that make up a considerable portion of a vehicle's body to be stronger and to accommodate more batteries.
The way a car is constructed can define not only the appearance of the vehicle, but also how it performs and acts for drivers and passengers. While technology has enabled for the design of doors and other parts to become lighter and to move in alternative ways, such as being able to have "gull wing" and sliding doors alongside standard hinged versions, there is almost always room for improvement.
Based on a pair of patents granted to Apple by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, Apple certainly believes it can make doors and floors better.
In the patent titled "Passenger vehicle and door structure," Apple envisions doors for a an Apple car that open outward with hinges on opposite ends of the vehicle. Rather than having a vertical door pillar that stretches from the floor to the roof, Apple's system instead creates a large opening without an interfering section of the body, as well as wider views through the window.
Under Apple's argument for the patent, it claims the doors in vehicles are usually made to transfer the weight of loads to static body structures, like a door pillar. In cases where manufacturers form a movable door pillar as part of the door's design, this can transfer the load of the door to the roof and floor of the vehicle, effectively accomplishing the same job but at the same time maintaining the need for a door pillar.
In Apple's suggestion for a door design, it proposes the use of doors hinged on opposing ends, but without the need for a pillar, nor a quazi-pillar built into the door. Instead, Apple suggests the door's structure can be strengthened with diagonal sections that extend from the top of the door closest to the hinge side, down to the floor where the two doors meet.
When both doors are closed, the doors are coupled together, and a tension is extended between the two doors. By being connected together, as well as to latch mechanisms in the floor, the doors provide enough rigidity to override the need for a vertical door pillar, without sacrificing the view.
Various variations of the patent suggest ways the structural beams can come together, including how sections can overlap each other and the floor structure, multiple structures within a door, and multiple latching mechanisms that couple depending on if one or both doors are closed.
The second patent, "Vehicle floor and assemblies thereof" is a more straightforward patent, describing how a floor of a vehicle can be designed to provide as much structural integrity from outward impacts and from torsion generated by normal driving. This is accomplished at the same time as creating as much space as possible between upper and lower floor assemblies for storing elements, such as batteries in an electric vehicle, but without wasting too much vertical space.
Apple's solution requires the use of a lower plate, an upper plate, outboard structures attached to the two plates and a vertical core that is also adhered to the two plates. The two plates can be made from multiple separate plates that are stacked and edge-welded together, with varying thicknesses depending on where strength in the structure is required.
The design could also include energy-absorbing and force-spreading regions, which can be used to mitigate damage caused through accidents, with each having differing compressive strengths. The balance is to have enough strength to prevent the compression of sensitive components like banks of batteries, which could be dangerous if pierced.
The patent also covers the manufacturing process for the floor, which includes the laying of adhesives, alignment of the core and outboard structures, heating and pressurizing, cooling, flatness correction, and upper floor assembly.
Apple files numerous patents with the USPTO on a weekly basis. The publication of patents may not necessarily be a guarantee that the concepts on display will make an appearance in a future Apple product or service, but they do indicate areas of interest for the company's research and development efforts.
The new discoveries go under the umbrella of "Project Titan," Apple's catch-all term for its automotive and self-driving vehicle work. While the project has largely centered around self-driving vehicle technology, there have been times where there was the prospect of an Apple-branded car.
Apple has previously looked at how to improve doors in cars in the past, and has explored the possibility of similar wide-opening vehicle entryways. In terms of car design, it has also rethought how sunroof systems operate in multiple ways, the use of smart seatbelts, point of interest capture systems, inter-car communications, fiber optic lighting systems, and augmented reality navigational assistance.