In a patent application first filed in 2015, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) described a navigation system for self-driving (autonomous) vehicles that allows the car to find its own way to a destination by monitoring the route and developing a characterization of it. The application was published Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).
In the application, Apple downplays the effectiveness of map-based navigation — a la Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Google Maps and its own mapping program —saying that the development of such maps requires too much cost and time.
Apple’s proposed system drives the car “independently of any data received from any devices external to the vehicle, and any navigation data stored locally to the vehicle prior to any monitoring of navigation.”
That independence is a result of what Apple calls “virtual route portion characterization” that can be “independent of any overall route” and used by the autonomous navigation system to “autonomously navigate a vehicle along one or more various routes.”
These virtual characterizations can be developed “while the vehicle is navigated through one or more roadway portions” and then subsequently be used to allow the vehicle to autonomously navigate through the characterized portions.
Whether or not Apple ever develops the technology only time will tell. Based as it is on building a virtual image of a route from, say, your home to your children’s school using sensors and processors to build and refine that image every time you (or the car) make the drive, it is significantly different from available navigation systems. So far, though, it’s just a big idea.
The full patent application is available at the PTO website.