Car Tech

5 Interesting Patents from the World’s Leading Automakers

In the sci-fi vision of the future in movies and TV shows, advanced technologies like hovercars and vehicle interiors that look more like movie theatres are commonplace. As we inch closer to that reality with self-driving cars and fully autonomous taxis apparently on the horizon, patents are a great way to get a peek into what’s coming in terms of automotive innovation.

Companies file patents to protect their ideas and gain exclusive rights to their innovations. While not every patent becomes a product that will be sold, they’re still a good look at what innovations the world’s leading automakers spend time and money on.

Here are some of the latest automotive patents that may pique your interest.

Augmented Reality Unlocks Hidden Objects

A common theme in sci-fi movies and TV shows is X-ray vision glasses, an extraordinary tech that allows the wearer to see through walls and clothes. Although this doesn’t exist in wearable form, General Motors (GM) has an exciting patent that brings this feature to your windshield.

GM’s patent outlines a new head-up display (HUD) technology that uses augmented reality to document the vehicle’s surroundings and a graphic projection device to display images in your field of vision.

HUD technology projects essential information onto the car’s windshield or a panel within the driver’s line of sight. As both an information tool and a safety feature, the HUD allows drivers to access various details without diverting their attention from the road.

Many manufacturers already utilize HUDs to display information like speed, time, mobile notifications, navigation instructions, and even if there’s something in your blind spot.

The system patented by GM is unique because it can receive object detection data to track objects around the vehicle and compares their positions with the captured images to identify visually hidden objects. When a hidden object is specified, the system determines a contextual graphic to represent it.

The patent also mentions the use of eye-tracking. Based on where the driver looks, it can provide visuals outside their field of view. For example, if you’re driving toward a street light but it’s hidden behind a large truck ahead, the system will recognize that the driver is not looking at the street light and then show it on the HUD to ensure they know what’s ahead.

Aerial Drone Butler

Did you grow up dreaming of having a robot butler like in the cartoons? While these are yet to be available in real life beyond simple Roomba vacuums, it’s not implausible. Geely, an automaker from China, has a patent that gets us one step closer.

The patent shows a robotic companion for your car that can help keep you dry. While Rolls-Royces have an umbrella holder hidden in the door frame, the Geely system utilizes an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The UAV attaches to your car and can be detached to hold your umbrella and hover to follow you around.

The patent also shows that the UAV’s controller can activate the UAV to fly to meet them at a store entrance and then escort them back to their car. Once safely dry inside, the controller can send the UAV to an awaiting passenger.

In the future, could it be used to carry your groceries? The sky is the limit.

Off-the-Grid Aero Wind Power Generation

The number of drone patents increased by 39 per cent in 2021 alone, with over 4,500 patents filed. A recent patent from the Hyundai Motor Company is a UAV concept that could help travellers and road trippers.

Hyundai’s patent shows a drone technology designed to help generate extra power while off the grid, which they call an “aero wind power generation apparatus.”

The patent explains how a UAV can be dispatched from a vehicle to capture electrical energy using high altitude, high-speed winds, and movement depending on weather conditions. The mechanism includes an inflatable balloon to reach specific heights with the best wind conditions.

Other manufacturers like Sono Motors, Aptera, Lightyear, Fisker, and Squad have a slightly different approach and use solar panels on their roofs to collect energy.

The Hyundai patent points out the benefit of producing electricity off the grid, which could reduce the need to rely on charging stations, not to mention being handy for people embracing van life, overlanding, or camping.

Manual Electric Gearbox

While gas-powered vehicles offer various transmission options, electric vehicles don’t need one at all. Many purists and driving enthusiasts have said manual gas-powered cars offer the most engaging driving experience and find that EVs lack that extra level of engagement. While many automakers are transitioning their lineups to be fully electric, the passion for manual transmissions lives on with Toyota Motor Corporation.

Toyota’s recent patent unveils a gearbox technology that blends manual and electric functionalities. The patent depicts a shifter and clutch pedal operating independently from the electric motor, with software and sensors influencing the user experience. By monitoring the clutch and shifter positions, a controller dynamically adjusts the motor speed to recreate the immersive sensation of driving a manual transmission with synthetic engine sounds and the ability to stall.

Toyota is not the sole car manufacturer exploring simulated manual gear-shifting in electric vehicles. Dodge mentioned using simulated gear shifting for its Daytona SRT concept, and Hyundai’s N division intends to introduce its version of a shifting system for the Ioniq 5 N.

That said, Toyota’s approach combines the practicality of an electric motor with the sentimental appeal of a manual gearbox, making it an experiential choice rather than a necessity, similar to the two-speed Porsche Taycan Turbo S.

Although this may not seem as exciting as a flying car, it’s hope for motorheads that one of the world’s largest automakers sees a future where electric vehicles will still have some personality and engagement.

Self-Repossessing Vehicles

Ford Motor Company boasts a substantial patent portfolio, ranking among the top global firms in granted patents. Its diverse patents range from drones to reimagining driving positions. The latest patent’s importance transcends its original intent, given its potential to substantially impact the automotive industry.

The recently unveiled patent by Ford signals its aim to take a more proactive approach concerning customers who don’t make their payment commitments. Notably, over 4.5 per cent of individuals under 30 holding auto loans have missed payments by 90 days, which is considered “serious delinquency.”

Ford, like numerous other automakers, faces the challenge of vehicle repossession. The prevalent method involves engaging a repossession agent to physically tow away the car if the debtor has lapsed on payments beyond a certain duration.

The patent from Ford shows a system that enables the company to take control of a lessee’s car if they fail to make timely payments. Ford’s patent outlines how a car’s internal computer system recognizes when a driver’s payment is delinquent. It then sends a message to the owner noting the delinquency of the vehicle-related payment. If the message isn’t acknowledged and payments still aren’t made within a certain period, the system can turn off the vehicle’s functionality or place it under complete lockdown.

As an alternative application, it could prove beneficial in preventing car theft. Consider that if a manufacturer can remotely shut down a stolen vehicle, this could discourage theft attempts and reduce such incidents.