Apple has scoped out an idea for Bluetooth sensors that help cars communicate with each other, according to an updated patent published on Thursday.
Sensors, likely Bluetooth short-range wireless technology, would scan the surroundings, communicating with other cars, sensors and a GPS system, updating a drivers’ dashboard display to reflect obstacles like ambulances or cars passing.
The patent doesn’t describe the technology as a self-driving car, but rather, compares it to a souped-up version of parking sensors blind-spot detection systems that are already commonplace in cars today.
Just because a technology is patented doesn’t mean it will ever see the light outside of Apple’s headquarters — indeed, most patented technologies are never commercialized and this might not be either.
And the idea of vehicle-to-vehicle communication isn’t new: The CAR 2 CAR Communication Consortium was founded in 2002. Broadcom, for instance, has already been working on similar technology for years. Qualcomm has several solutions, incorporating Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G/4G LTE.
Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.
Still, it makes sense for Apple to be doubling down on this type of technology for a few reasons.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that the company is investing heavily in building autonomous systems — and one major application of that technology is cars. Apple already has a modified mobile operating system, CarPlay, that’s designed to be used in the car. As autonomous vehicles take over more of the drivers’ traditional duties, systems like CarPlay could be more widely used.
Apple is also interested in improving wireless connections in general. With its latest wireless earbuds, AirPods, Apple revealed a new W1 chip to improve performance. While it’s a bit of a leap to draw a line between the two, one of the inventors on Apple’s automobile patent lists his occupation as iOS Bluetooth engineer. Not to mention that a recently disbanded automotive sensor company, Pearl Automation, was flush with former Apple engineers.
If Apple does build the fabled iCar, it may actually be required to have this type of vehicle-to-vehicle communication system. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal would require vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems, predicting the technology could “prevent or reduce the severity of up to 80 percent of non-alcohol-related crashes.”