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Apple is working to reinvent the seatbelt for the Apple Car

Skoda already has seatbelt buttons that light up, but Apple wants to do more

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The typical big red button to release a seatbelt is too old-fashioned for the Apple Car, which instead wants seatbelt buckles to light up, and even display information.

The familiar interior of a car could see changes because of Apple
The familiar interior of a car could see changes because of Apple

Apple has had its eye on seatbelts before, with a 2019 patent proposing that they include speakers and media controls. Now in a newly-granted patent called "Restraint with an indicator area," Apple is going after something more basic.

Seatbelts will still work by your inserting a connector into a buckle, and that buckle will still have a button that snap-releases the belt. But where that release button is typically red, Apple's will change.

When you get into the Apple Car — which Apple still won't confirm it's doing — then you will see bright red seatbelt buckles. But then when have put one on, the red light turns off and the belt restraint "may be uncolored (i.e. colored according to the nominal color of the opaque structure."

So the buckle button will light up to help you find it. That could actually be useful in situations where it's not clear whose seatbelt is whose, or which buckle they should be inserted into.

It's potentially so useful that Skoda has already done it, or at least a version of it. Apple's patent proposes hiding the red light until its needed, by putting the illumination behind myriad invisible holes in the material.

"The description herein relates to a safety restraint that utilizes light emitted through an array of very small holes through an otherwise opaque surface to provide information to users regarding operation of the safety restraint," says the patent. "As one example, many seat belt buckles include red-colored release buttons to allow the user to easily discern the location and function of the button."

"[Small] holes are formed through opaque structures allow transmission of light," it explains. "In particular, portions of the restraint use light that is emitted through the holes (either empty or filled with a translucent material), which are formed through an otherwise opaque portion of the safety restraint."

"The size of the holes is sufficiently small such that they are not readily visible to the naked eve of a vehicle occupant on casual inspection," says Apple.

So a seatbelt and buckle could light up red when you need to see them, and turn back to being the same color as the rest of the seat when you're wearing them.

Detail from the patent showing that Apple designers may not have heard of Norman doors
Detail from the patent showing that Apple designers may not have heard of Norman doors

There is just a little more, though. While the actual text of the patent doesn't use this word once, four of its nine illustrations clearly show that a seatbelt could say "Push."

It's not clear whether that word would light up as you draw the seatbelt near to its buckle, or whether it's what could be displayed on the buckle's release.

What is clear is that in either case, you're already either about to push the seatbelt's tongue into the buckle, or to press to release it. So in either case, "Push" bordering on patronizing.

It is always good to know that you have correctly secured a seat belt, so maybe the "Push" sign switching off could be confirmation. Except with existing seatbelts, there is a distinctive click when you get it right.

Or perhaps Apple intends to add haptic feedback, too.

Curiously, this newly-granted patent is actually a second one regarding lighting or lit-up regions in a car. In 2019, Apple was also awarded a patent for "Lighting systems of vehicle seats," which could light up when a seat is being adjusted, for instance.