What will your next car be like? Google, Apple and other giants of the smartphone business have plenty of ideas. In fact, Google alone has 310 U.S. patents relating to areas such as car-based smart devices, navigation and route guidance. Apple has another 35. Meanwhile, five other smartphone players have a total of 617 additional U.S. patents with automotive implications.
Those numbers leap out of a new report on smartphone companiesâ€™ rapidly growing interest in the car market. The report was carried out by EnvisionIP, a patent-analysis firm in New York City. The study identifies seven tech companies that have been briskly filing patent applications in a bid to become â€œleading innovators in the smart vehicle and hybrid/electric vehicle space.â€
EnvisionIPâ€s founder and managing director, Maulin Shah, finds that Google has the biggest automotive-related patent portfolio, in large part because of the patents it acquired in 2012 from Motorola Mobility. But he says Google also has some intriguing patents coined by its own engineers, including Patent No.Â 8,457,827, which coversÂ â€œmodifying behavior of autonomous vehicle based on predicted behavior of other vehicles,â€ as well as Patent No. 8,428,873 , which applies to â€œpanoramic images within driving directionsâ€.
An especially intriguing Google patent application, 20130261871Â â€” which hasnâ€™t yet been approved â€” applies to â€œgesture-based automotive controls.â€ Google engineers Nicholas Hobbs and Liang-Yu Chi define these as everything from tapping to pinching or waving. Once such gestures are recognized, all sorts of responses would be possible, including adjusting a seat or changing the windshield wipersâ€™ speed.
Hobbs and Chi donâ€™t explicitly include a raised middle finger as one of the gestures that their patent will track. Nor do they offer any ideas about what a Google-equipped car might be able to do â€” instantly â€” if a driver resorted to such a universal gesture of frustration. But their patent is broadly enough written that Google or its automotive partners have room to innovate in this area, too.
Other leading smartphone companies with U.S. automotive patents, according to EnvisionIP, include Samsung (234 patents), LG (161), Sony (155), Nokia (42) and BlackBerry (25).
Expect to hear a lot more this year about the convergence of smartphone technology and the car of the future. As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, Google and Audi are expected to announced next week at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas that they will be working together on developing in-car gadgetry based on Googleâ€™s Android operating system. Apple and its iOS operating system already have won interest from BMW, Ford Motor and Daimler AGâ€™s Mercedes car business.