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Apple's self-driving car system could use voice, gesture guidance

A patent application from the company shows how it imagines humans would interact with its software.

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- 02:13
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Apple has its eye on self-driving car tech.

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Interacting with a future self-driving car could be a lot like working with some future interpretation of Apple iOS with voice, gesture and touch-enabled commands at your disposal.

It's the overarching view gathered after reading through an Apple patent application filed last August and published last week for a self-driving car voice and gesture guidance system. 

CEO Tim Cook said in 2017 that Apple was working on an autonomous car system, rather than a car itself, as had been previously rumored.

At its core, the system described in the patent application gives passengers three ways to give the autonomous car directions and input, and much of the described system is incredibly similar to commands we're used to today.

First, there's the voice command. According to the application, an authorized user would simply say something like, "I'd like some coffee." From there, the autonomous car is at liberty to whisk the passenger away to the nearest cafe, or maybe the highest rated one. For times when you want something specific, it's as simple as saying, "Let's go to my favorite coffee shop on Main Street."

Different voice commands can create different trips, but the user is ultimately in control of how much freedom they give to the autonomous car.

Apple voice and gesture command patent application for self-driving car

A combination of speaking and gesturing with a smartphone could tell the car where to park.

USPTO

Gesture controls is a neat concept mentioned in the application, and also involves a smartphone. Here, you would say something like, "Park over there" and motion the smartphone toward a spot near the front entrance of a building. The computer wizardry would analyze the situation and maybe follow up and ensure you meant that specific area and not somewhere else nearby. This sounds like it would need a lot of fine tweaking to be accurate enough.

Apple voice and gesture command patent application for self-driving car

Toss some iOS-like colors in and Apple fonts, and this is pretty believable.

USPTO

Inside the autonomous car sits a giant touchscreen, and I imagine it has a very Apple-looking user interface. The application also describes a basic touch interface with predictive features to tell the vehicle where you want to go. On the screen, you would see an area to input where you want to go and then a second area to specify where you want to park. Places nearby and history-dependent selections are all available -- just like if you often park in the same area in a garage before a night on the town. Apple also mentions a digital joystick to move the car manually and guide it toward a parking spot, if needed.

As always with patent applications, there's a disclaimer. Patents and applications for them are never pieces of concrete evidence, though they can tell us what a company is perhaps thinking about. And if there's one thing we do know, Apple is interested in software for self-driving cars.

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