Offbeat automotive patent applications
  • Offbeat automotive patent applications
    • Image Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Offbeat automotive patent applications

    In 2014, the US Patent and Trademark Office saw a mind-boggling 615,243 patent applications roll through its offices. Of those, 326,033 were granted.

    Lots of patents will never be made into products, and many come from rather obscure origins. Other patent applications, however, come from huge organizations, and the inventions these patents describe very may find their way into actual useful products.

    A great many of the applications that find their way into the USPTO come from automotive companies, or tech companies with intentions of entering the auto space. We've assembled a few of the most recent patents – some extremely strange and other genuinely useful – for your perusal.

    Click on the image above to begin the slideshow.

  • Toyota Flying Car Patent
    • Image Credit: US Patent and Trademark Office

    Toyota Flying Car Patent

    A practical, affordable, mass-produced flying car is like the Holy Grail and the lost city of El Dorado all rolled into one. The potential of such a vehicle would be huge, but every effort to bring one to market thus far has been met with failure. New patent renderings indicate one of the auto industry's biggest could be ready to take a stab at the affordable, personal, airborne vehicle.

    According to Bloomberg, Toyota filed patent application 20150246720, which covers the design for a "stackable wing for an aerocar." The four wings would be stacked on the roof while in "roadable" mode and could be flipped out individually for flight. Interestingly, the patent doesn't seem to show any ailerons or elevators for roll and pitch control, although the profile view used in the drawings might not need to show any control surfaces. We can see, though, a vertical tailfin on the actual car, which includes what looks like a cut line for the rudder (for yaw).

    As The Daily Mail notes, this is a fairly basic patent drawing covering the wings, and doesn't include anything on how the car would develop thrust for takeoff and flight. The only two inventors listed on the patent, which was originally filed back in March 2014, are in New Jersey and Michigan, Bloomberg reports.

    Will a flying car from Toyota ever take off? Well... it's certainly no Moller Skycar.

  • Boeing Force-Field Patent
    • Image Credit: US Patent and Trademark Office

    Boeing Force-Field Patent

    There are a lot of bad drivers on the road, if you haven't already noticed. They are completely without spatial awareness, scraping other cars when pulling in and backing out of parking spots, rear-ending, side-swiping and generally being absent-minded, uncoordinated, distracted, road-going terrors. Therefore, we should all be hoping that Boeing's latest patent filing (shown above), shown above, is telling the truth when it talks about its fantastical force-field technology.

    Of course, as with so many cutting edge technologies, the new tech is being looked at first and foremost for the armed forces, and it's decidedly less adept at handling the situations we mention above. Instead of managing direct impacts, the Boeing system is instead meant to counteract shockwaves, of the sort produced by improvised explosive devices and it'll do so in a far less dramatic fashion than one of the many force fields or "shields" shown in science fiction, like Star Trek.

    To explain it, we're just going to let Foxtrot Alpha explain, because frankly, we've no idea what the hell they're on about:


    "The concept behind Boeing's force field goes something like this: a sensor mounted on a vehicle would detect a shock wave caused by a nearby explosion. A computer then figures out the range direction of the shock wave based on sensor data so that it can know how to defend against it. As with all things in life, timing is everything.

    Then, an 'arc generator' creates a 'second medium' (atmosphere being the first) by initiating an electronic arc that travels along a conducive path via a laser system that emits a series of pulses. The combination of which ionizes the atmosphere between the vehicle and the shock wave and creates a plasma field that temporarily protects the vehicle from the incoming shock waves."

    Anyone else get that? No? Good. Neither did we.

    Despite an utter lack of understanding of such a cutting edge technology, we can certainly get behind its purpose, as well as its future applications, which FA claims could include both vessels and aircraft. Here's hoping it jumps from the planning stages to actual applications sooner rather than later.
  • Apple iPhone Car Key Patent
    • Image Credit: US Patent and Trademark Office

    Apple iPhone Car Key Patent

    The traditional, metal car key has been rapidly falling by the wayside in recent years. Where the devices used to be vital for opening a vehicle's doors and getting the engine started, today the latest models have replaced that simplicity with an electronic gadget for owners to keep in their pocket. The next step could even make that obsolete and move control to a person's smartphone, at least if Apple does anything with a recently filed patent.

    The technology giant's solution would let owners control their vehicle from a smartphone over Bluetooth, Wifi or the cellular network. The patent mentions obvious uses like unlocking the doors and starting the engine. Apple also outlines sharing access with other devices to let more than one person use the car (pictured above). Since each phone is an identifier, the model could theoretically adjust the seats and mirrors to the right preferences as someone approaches.

    Of course, security would seem to be a problem. Apple says that access is limited by using a passcode, but there's no mention of what would happen if the smartphone's battery dies, it breaks or gets stolen. Presumably, owners would be back to the old days of getting in with a key.

    Similar ideas to this patent are already at work in some current vehicles. For example, Tesla offers an app that gives owners remote access to many of the functions that Apple suggests.
  • Hyundai Speed Bump Detector Patent
    • Image Credit: US Patent and Trademark Office

    Hyundai Speed Bump Detector Patent

    Often patents are more about solving a small, annoying problem than really taking on the big issues. Take Hyundai's recent filing for a system to detect speed bumps, for example. Other than teens with a fresh license and ground-scraping supercar drivers, no one really sees spotting these traffic-slowing devices as the bane of their existence. However, the Korean automaker is out to make driving just a little more convenient for everyone with this tech.

    The Hyundai patent combines several pieces of currently available technology in a new way. GPS, a camera, and multiple sensors identify an oncoming speed bump, and they then measure its height, width, and curvature. With that info, the software calculates the appropriate speed to drive over the hump. If drivers are going too fast, then a warning message tells them to slow down.

    The patent is a straightforward solution to a problem that doesn't seem to really exist for many drivers. However, while Hyundai makes no mention of this in the documents, this tech could be extremely useful for applications in autonomous vehicles. All the system would need is the additional ability to slow itself automatically, and the driverless car could potentially handle a speed bump just as well as a human.
  • Ram In-Bed Ramp Patent
    • Image Credit: US Patent and Trademark Office

    Ram In-Bed Ramp Patent

    Most of the patent filings we report on these days are of a pretty high-tech nature: everything from "humanized" navigation systems to 11-speed transmissions. But cool innovations can be lower-tech and clever, too. At least that's our feeling after seeing some proposed plans from Ram.

    FCA has filed a patent for a system of built-in ramps recessed inside of a truck bed. While stowable ramps aren't new – Ford offers a similar system for the F-150 ­– the level of integration shown in these diagrams seems to be. Drawings show ramps that run on channels in the bed and tailgate, hinged at the end of the extended gate for a gentle upslope into the cargo area. What's more, the system seems changeable, with two ramps set wide or narrow, or just one centrally mounted. Just the thing for switching from motorcycle-loading season to snowmobile-loading season.

    A granted patent doesn't always lead to a product brought to market, of course. Issues with cost, durability, and demand all have a lot to say about what makes it from design to showroom. Still, we think the proposed RamRamp (feel free to use that, FCA) shows a ton of promise. Speak up truck owners, is a factory-installed ramp system like the one you see here something you'd pay for on your next vehicle?
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