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Apple Car could make road hazards brighter and easier to see for drivers

Apple's long-rumored car could have a headlight system that provides drivers with more awareness of the road, by highlighting areas of interest ahead of the vehicle by making the light shining from the headlights brighter specifically in those regions.

While most of the speculation of what Apple's ongoing automotive efforts have come up relate to the design of the vehicle and its self-driving capabilities, Apple has considered ways to make the driving experience itself better. One of those ways is to make it safer to drive the Apple Car, by informing the driver of road events.

While most cars will provide extra data in the form of indicators in the dashboard, alarms, and even on infotainment displays, most of these provide relatively limited information, and in a fashion that requires drivers to take their eyes off the road. In all cases, this also diverts the driver's attention away from the possible road obstruction or other vehicles, making it hazardous.

Granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday and first applied for in May 2018, the patent for "System and method for light and image projection" proposes a way of keeping drivers aware of road-based dangers without pulling their view away from it. Instead, Apple suggests it could modify light emitted by the headlights to highlight parts of the road that may be worth closer examination by the driver.

An example of areas a car could detect and deem worthy of illuminating for the driver

For the system, the vehicle is fed data about what is on the road ahead of it and to the sides, via an array of sensors similar to what would be used for a self-driving vehicle system. The data is fed into a system to analyze a street scene, one that could determine how the vehicle should move ahead, as well as accounting for the velocities of any road obstacles.

In one way, the vehicle's headlamps could shine an "illuminated indicator" at the point of interest for the driver, which could also offer a way to identify what the item is if the driver is unsure. For example, it could use a symbol or lighting scheme to differentiate other vehicles from pedestrians.

It is also proposed the contrast of the illuminated scene could be modified to better suit the driver's view. The system could use sensors to make sure everything is lit evenly, taking into account weather effects, exterior lighting, and reflectance.

The lighting system has the potential to use RGB laser diodes to shine light in specific places, and in different patterns
The lighting system has the potential to use RGB laser diodes to shine light in specific places, and in different patterns

While these illuminations could indicate areas of the road that need attention, the same system could be employed to offer more contextual information to the driver, such as shining the next turn instruction from a set of navigations on the road itself. As a byproduct of this, other drivers and road users will be able to see the instruction on the road, and could take the opportunity to fine tune their driving plans.

Rather than fully illuminating a pedestrian, the system could elect to highlight small dots at the main joints of their skeleton to show of their presence to the driver. By placing the dots at joints and tracking them, this means the system could show the driver the movements of the pedestrian, such as waving or their walking gait.

How the system could shine dots on pedestrians
How the system could shine dots on pedestrians

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while it does demonstrate areas of interest for Apple's product research and development efforts, it is not a guarantee the concept will appear in a future product or service.

The patent credits Daniel E Potter, Clarisse Mazuir, Matthew E. Last, Ricardo da Silveira Cabral, Paul Furgale, Christy F. Cull, Daniel J. Reetz, and Matisse J. Milovich as inventors.

Of the inventors, Last is the most prominent name in terms of Apple patent filings relating to cars, having been listed in connection to a system for using infrared-transparent layers in car designs, a type of LiDAR system, new designs for side mirrors, and environmental sensors, among others.