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New Apple Patent Enables Driverless Peloton Configurations and Increased Battery Efficiency

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【Summary】According to Apple, the autonomous driving feature can be used with two or more driverless cars. Load-sharing in a peloton configuration is facilitated by a sturdy arm that creates a connection between the internal batteries of the cars.

Michael Cheng    Oct 31, 2018 6:00 AM PT
New Apple Patent Enables Driverless Peloton Configurations and Increased Battery Efficiency
author: Michael Cheng   

A new patent from Apple provides clues about the tech giant's autonomous driving platform, which is currently under heavy development. Filed at the US Patent and Trademark Office, the patent includes solutions for improving battery efficiency, via an external connector arm.

Moreover, the authors of the patent showcased features involving peloton traveling configurations. The term "peloton" is a conventional cycling term used to describe a core group of riders. In the patent, the word is applied to reference a platoon-like configuration consisting of self-driving vehicles.

Patent Details

According to Apple, the autonomous driving feature can be used with two or more driverless cars. It's important to highlight that as more vehicles join the string, the more efficient the connected traveling configuration becomes. The positions and driving ranges of the vehicles participating in the platoon can be optimized for greater efficiency.

Controls for the platoon are based on a master-slave principle, wherein a leading (master) vehicle, also known as an "ego-vehicle" in the patent, advises other (slave) units connected in the network or group. Such protocols, which are common in electronics, are designed to streamline controls and make complex commands less confusing to implement.

Load-sharing in a peloton configuration is facilitated by a sturdy arm that creates a connection between the internal batteries of the cars.

"The vehicles can dynamically adjust peloton positions while navigating to reduce driving range differences among the vehicles," explained the authors of the patent.

"The vehicle can include a power management system which enables the vehicle to be electrically coupled to a battery included in another vehicle in the peloton, so that driving range differences between the vehicles can be reduced via load sharing via the electrical connection."

Addressing Battery Efficiency Challenges

Applications for the cutting-edge patent are mostly suitable for groups traveling together. Specifically, it would be useful in situations wherein several people are heading towards the same destination, which could also offer individuals more privacy and comfort during the trip (while improving short-term battery use).

Another interesting application would involve autonomous fleets providing third-party delivery services to local businesses. During deliveries, driverless vehicles may complete last-mile deliveries on their own. At the end of the day, the vehicles could meet at a common location and travel in a peloton configuration back to a centralized warehouse or charging station for docking or maintenance. Businesses offering shuttling or ride-hailing services may also optimize grouped bookings using this feature.

At the moment, it's too early to tell where Apple is going with this patent. Battery technology for electrified vehicles are currently being developed at a rapid pace, which could make such feature obsolete. Furthermore, a successful patent filing does not guarantee the feature will actually make it to the live version of company's autonomous driving platform.

As the highlighted peloton configuration in the patent closely resembles platooning for driverless trucks, could Apple be hinting moves toward the autonomous trucking sector? Such developments would not be far-fetched for a company known for its game-changing strategies and disruptive achievements.   

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