Apple working on self-driving car 'peloton' system to share power, increase efficiency

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Self-driving cars could potentially work together to minimize energy usage on long journeys, with Apple proposing the use of an autonomous peloton of vehicles that could reduce drag for low-performance vehicles, and even the possibility of cars sharing battery power with each other while on the road.




The patent, simply titled "Peloton" and published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, explains ways that a collection of self-driving vehicles could travel along a road close together in a convoy. On a long journey and at high speeds, a peloton offers potential cost savings to passengers and drivers, both in terms of fuel cost and time.

The system proposed by Apple is similar to those employed by cyclists in a race, where a team could arrange for an initial pair of riders to lead the group, disrupting the airflow and minimizing drag for those behind. Further back riders can conserve energy as they don't have to fight against the wind. At specific times, the riders at the back of the line move to the front, giving the previous leading riders a rest.

For vehicles, the reduction in drag can help vehicles further back in the convoy reduce their fuel usage while maintaining speed, or to increase speed while maintaining the current consumption rate. Apple suggests this could be used to increase the navigational range of a vehicle, potentially to a level where fewer gas station or recharging stops are required, reducing the journey time by minimizing breaks.




In Apple's system, the vehicle navigation system can compare the driving ranges of each vehicle in a peloton and determines a particular order. The system is able to issue instructions to other vehicles, allowing the cars to assemble into an optimal configuration, such as by placing vehicles with larger fuel reserves towards the front so those with lower fuel quantities gain more of the benefits.

While the peloton may help fuel economy simply from driving order, Apple also suggests that electric vehicles driving together could share reserves with each other. A retractable apparatus could be extended between two vehicles, allowing the two to transfer power if required.

In the case of a convoy of electric vehicles, this could allow a car with a drained battery to be recharged by other vehicles in front. Since all vehicles involved are self-driving and capable of communicating with each other, as well as being able to read their locations and the road conditions, it would be feasible for the cars to drive close enough together for a prolonged period of time, one that would allow for an acceptable amount of power to be transferred.

While the power transfer idea is useful for groups driving, it is unclear if it is also intended for use with other road vehicles. Peloton driving offers benefits to all, but presumably it would be up to the driver if they wish to provide others access to their vehicle's power reserves.




Apple files numerous patents every week, but while publication by the USPTO could be a sign of what the company is considering, it isn't a guarantee that it will be made available in a future Apple product or service.

While known for its computing devices, Apple is also exploring automotive technology as part of "Project Titan." The project was originally believed to lead to the creation of an Apple-branded car, but it has since changed focus in favor of self-driving vehicle systems.

Apple is currently operating a fleet of vehicles in California to test and improve its self-driving system. The company is also believed to be working with Volkswagen on the PAIL program, which will ferry employees between Apple offices using autonomous vans.

It is unclear exactly why Apple is working in the field, nor what Apple intends to do with the technology in the future.

A number of patents in the self-driving field have surfaced, including one where the self-driving car will warn other road users of an intention to turn or change lanes via external displays, while another patent application has the vehicle changing the way it drives based on the observed stress levels of its passengers.

More recently, a patent application for "Converter architecture" details how the power train of an electric vehicle could be improved, by using a multiple converters and a secondary battery to change a high-energy source down to a lower voltage. While not directly self-driving related, the patent at least suggests Apple's plans to create its own car are not entirely scrapped.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    roakeroake Posts: 624member
    The power sharing is interesting.  I doubt it would be popular in today’s #mememe culture.
  • Reply 2 of 46
    pk22901pk22901 Posts: 138member
    Might be interesting... Power sharing / peloton driving could be used by car fleets (Hertz, GM, army, field trips to common destinations) and... Trailways and Greyhound private vehicle "trains".
  • Reply 3 of 46
    Works great until one car in the line blows a tire.
    JWSC
  • Reply 4 of 46
    When I think of self-driving vehicles I think of electric vehicles, a peloton probably results in minimal cost savings.

    To show the problem of a
     Peloton, I’ll leave you this image:

    There’s a pe
    loton of a dozen cars in the slow lane.  I’m in the middle lane, and I realize my off ramp is coming up.  I have a huge wall of vehicles to my right.  I turn on my turn signal.  No one notices because a computer is driving, and no ones eyes are on the road.  What do I do?  Do I accelerate or brake aggressively to attempt to get around the wall of vehicles... BOOM I didn’t make it.

    Until all vehicles are self-driving the p
    eloton idea is a disaster waiting to happen.  Somehow I don’t think we’ll have self driving motorcycles... It would kind of defeat the purpose.
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 5 of 46
    One more reason I like Apple as a company. They are doing the basic research that society needs for the future.
    lolliver
  • Reply 6 of 46
    eugeeuge Posts: 16member
    When I think of self-driving vehicles I think of electric vehicles, a peloton probably results in minimal cost savings.

    To show the problem of a
     Peloton, I’ll leave you this image:

    There’s a pe
    loton of a dozen cars in the slow lane.  I’m in the middle lane, and I realize my off ramp is coming up.  I have a huge wall of vehicles to my right.  I turn on my turn signal.  No one notices because a computer is driving, and no ones eyes are on the road.  What do I do?  Do I accelerate or brake aggressively to attempt to get around the wall of vehicles... BOOM I didn’t make it.

    Until all vehicles are self-driving the p
    eloton idea is a disaster waiting to happen.  Somehow I don’t think we’ll have self driving motorcycles... It would kind of defeat the purpose.
    This scenario is not much different than now, when you're trying to get over when there are a line of cars in the right lane. A lot of times when you signal, people won't let you in cause they're, well, people. So you still have to accelerate or brake to find an opening. With a peloton your signal will be noticed BECAUSE a computer is driving, and the peloton can let you in. Computers won't actively decide to not let you through cause it's being a d-bag, unlike people. Also, they can choose to limit the number of cars in a single peloton for this reason.
    d_2king editor the grateStrangeDaysrandominternetpersonLordeHawktmaymattinozlolliverjony0
  • Reply 7 of 46
    palomine said:
    One more reason I like Apple as a company. They are doing the basic research that society needs for the future.
    The idea for autonomous vehicles doing this has been around for a while. Unless memory fails, decades in fact. Apple probably isn’t the first to have a patent exploiting this idea, but their implementation would vary from the other patents.
  • Reply 8 of 46
    Except for the part about transferring battery power between cars, the "peloton" concept is quite old. I saw proposals for "trains" of computer-operated vehicles driving literally bumper-to-bumper since at least the late 1980s or early 1990s, precisely to reduce aerodynamic drag.
  • Reply 9 of 46
    Works great until one car in the line blows a tire.
    What makes you think they will even have conventional tires?
    LordeHawklolliver
  • Reply 10 of 46
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 335member

    Not very keen on physical attachment for power sharing.  Too many potential mechanical failure modes.  They’d need to develop the capability to shape the inductive electromagnetic field to extend it to the next vehicle, front and rear.

    But the idea of power sharing has merit.  The front vehicle would bear the brunt of pushing the air and require significant additional power to maintain speed.  And the rear vehicle would experience drag that would also require some additional power.  The vehicles in between would provide some additional power to compensate.

    Early application would most likely be with commercial fleet transportation.    But if interstate highways were modified with peloton lanes (similar to HOV lanes) this could work for all vehicles with the technology.

    Of course, the larger question is why is Apple investing in any of this.

  • Reply 11 of 46
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,033member
    Why does every advancement of automobile technology, especially concerning EVs, include the whole self-driving aspect? Two totally different things.

    While I love the sound of ICEs and such, I'm quite happy for someone to build a compelling EV I might own some day. But, I'll do everything in my power to steer clear (pun intended) of anything autonomous (both in terms of the car I buy, as well as trying to keep those hazards off the road!).

    That said, autonomous cars following one another sounds like a great idea, so long as you can get the first one to drive off a cliff. :)
    edited October 2018 cornchip
  • Reply 12 of 46
    When I think of self-driving vehicles I think of electric vehicles, a peloton probably results in minimal cost savings.

    To show the problem of a
     Peloton, I’ll leave you this image:

    There’s a pe
    loton of a dozen cars in the slow lane.  I’m in the middle lane, and I realize my off ramp is coming up.  I have a huge wall of vehicles to my right.  I turn on my turn signal.  No one notices because a computer is driving, and no ones eyes are on the road.  What do I do?  Do I accelerate or brake aggressively to attempt to get around the wall of vehicles... BOOM I didn’t make it.

    Until all vehicles are self-driving the p
    eloton idea is a disaster waiting to happen.  Somehow I don’t think we’ll have self driving motorcycles... It would kind of defeat the purpose.
    Or, as much as people don't like this suggestion.... You could slow down. That would give you more time to react. Or you can better plan and prepare. If you know your exit is coming up, get into the lane a lot sooner (like a mile or two beforehand). That way you don't have the problem anymore.
    Works great until one car in the line blows a tire.
    So, I travel over 80 miles one way to and from work. The chances of a blown tire is remote at best. Even then, I am sure that the computer (which would probably be monitoring the pressure of the tires) could communicate with the other cars in the Peloton, react accordingly without freaking out, and pull off to the side the road without incident.

    Most accidents with a blow out happen because the driver was startled at first and reacted to the sound; not because the tire has suddenly vanished.
    cgWerksStrangeDayslolliver
  • Reply 13 of 46
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 335member
    cgWerks said:
    Why does every advancement of automobile technology, especially concerning EVs, include the whole self-driving aspect? Two totally different things.

    While I love the sound of ICEs and such, I'm quite happy for someone to build a compelling EV I might own some day. But, I'll do everything in my power to steer clear (pun intended) of anything autonomous (both in terms of the car I buy, as well as trying to keep those hazards off the road!).

    That said, autonomous cars following one another sounds like a great idea, so long as you can get the first one to drive off a cliff. :)
    Yes, well, the one concern I have is that down the road (pun intended) we may be required to use autonomous vehicles and will no longer be permitted to drive our own cars.

    Ask yourself what happens when 80% of the vehicles on the road are autonomous yet 80% of reported accidents are caused by vehicles with active drivers.
  • Reply 14 of 46
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,033member
    mike eggleston said:
    So, I travel over 80 miles one way to and from work. The chances of a blown tire is remote at best. Even then, I am sure that the computer (which would probably be monitoring the pressure of the tires) could communicate with the other cars in the Peloton, react accordingly without freaking out, and pull off to the side the road without incident.

    Most accidents with a blow out happen because the driver was startled at first and reacted to the sound; not because the tire has suddenly vanished.
    Exactly! I've been driving hundreds of thousands of miles over my life so far, and I've never had a blow-out. My current car came with run-flats (which suck), so it has regular ties and no spare, and I don't give it a second thought. It's about as likely the tire will blow as the engine, leaving me calling a tow-truck either way. I suppose this could vary if you life in some areas with REALLY poor streets, but then maybe put some effort into getting the gov't in your area to spend some $ on infrastructure.

    JWSC said:
    Yes, well, the one concern I have is that down the road (pun intended) we may be required to use autonomous vehicles and will no longer be permitted to drive our own cars.

    Ask yourself what happens when 80% of the vehicles on the road are autonomous yet 80% of reported accidents are caused by vehicles with active drivers.
    For sure... the way governments and societal stupidity seem to be headed. :(  Red Barchetta comes to mind?

    That said, if 80% of the cars were AI, with 20% real drivers, I don't think it would be the real drivers causing the problem. The only way I see AI vehicles really working, is with re-designed road systems and 100% AI. This whole idea about AI being safer has yet to be proven, and it's based on the premise of qualitative advancements in a sci-fi version of what AI will be capable of.
  • Reply 15 of 46
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 335member
    cgWerks said:
    mike eggleston said:
    So, I travel over 80 miles one way to and from work. The chances of a blown tire is remote at best. Even then, I am sure that the computer (which would probably be monitoring the pressure of the tires) could communicate with the other cars in the Peloton, react accordingly without freaking out, and pull off to the side the road without incident.

    Most accidents with a blow out happen because the driver was startled at first and reacted to the sound; not because the tire has suddenly vanished.
    Exactly! I've been driving hundreds of thousands of miles over my life so far, and I've never had a blow-out. My current car came with run-flats (which suck), so it has regular ties and no spare, and I don't give it a second thought. It's about as likely the tire will blow as the engine, leaving me calling a tow-truck either way. I suppose this could vary if you life in some areas with REALLY poor streets, but then maybe put some effort into getting the gov't in your area to spend some $ on infrastructure.

    JWSC said:
    Yes, well, the one concern I have is that down the road (pun intended) we may be required to use autonomous vehicles and will no longer be permitted to drive our own cars.

    Ask yourself what happens when 80% of the vehicles on the road are autonomous yet 80% of reported accidents are caused by vehicles with active drivers.
    For sure... the way governments and societal stupidity seem to be headed. :(  Red Barchetta comes to mind?

    That said, if 80% of the cars were AI, with 20% real drivers, I don't think it would be the real drivers causing the problem. The only way I see AI vehicles really working, is with re-designed road systems and 100% AI. This whole idea about AI being safer has yet to be proven, and it's based on the premise of qualitative advancements in a sci-fi version of what AI will be capable of.

    A Rush fan!  Red Barchetta indeed!  🚗

    Very true that autonomous navigation has yet to be proven.  But I think for single vehicles in a mixed environment we are not far from a safe and reliable solution in metro areas and on the highways.

    With regard to infrastructure, I have to believe that efficiencies will be gained with the elimination of stoplights (ignoring the perils to pedestrians but, nobody walks in LA anyway), and the transformation of the interstate system which will provide much faster intercity commutes.

    In the long run it will be interesting to see what emergent properties and behaviors develop with massive systemwide implementation of autonomous navigation.  You can run simulations all you want.  But until it’s deployed on the road at scale I don’t think anyone can predict what will emerge with any confidence.

    edited October 2018 radarthekat
  • Reply 16 of 46
    Works great until one car in the line blows a tire.
    Gosh I hope they think of that.
    lolliverbeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 17 of 46
    Works great until one car in the line blows a tire.
    Gosh I hope they think of that.
    Would be nice. 
  • Reply 18 of 46
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 335member
    Works great until one car in the line blows a tire.
    Gosh I hope they think of that.
    Would be nice. 
    I’m sure it’s just an edge case scenario.
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 19 of 46
    F.... I just wanted to sell this idea to another company....
  • Reply 20 of 46
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,033member
    JWSC said:
    A Rush fan!  Red Barchetta indeed!  🚗

    Very true that autonomous navigation has yet to be proven.  But I think for single vehicles in a mixed environment we are not far from a safe and reliable solution in metro areas and on the highways.

    With regard to infrastructure, I have to believe that efficiencies will be gained with the elimination of stoplights (ignoring the perils to pedestrians but, nobody walks in LA anyway), and the transformation of the interstate system which will provide much faster intercity commutes.

    In the long run it will be interesting to see what emergent properties and behaviors develop with massive systemwide implementation of autonomous navigation.  You can run simulations all you want.  But until it’s deployed on the road at scale I don’t think anyone can predict what will emerge with any confidence.

    The problem is the unknown or the unique. AI isn't magic, nor is it actually thinking. It's a database (added to by the program) with sophisticated search logic. The idea (sci-fi aside), is that as the database of situations grows (collected from not just one car, but many), enough situations will eventually be covered, such that the mistakes made by AI will be lower than human mistakes (which are many and growing... though note that in USA, fatalities are about 1 in 100M miles driven, which AI cars only have a fraction of in total... i.e. statistically, AI vehicles shouldn't even be approaching 1 fatality yet!)

    But, just think for a moment about all the vectors involved in 'situations' in the real world. They are basically trying to map a fractal. They will ever only cover some small percentage. Humans have the ability to think and be creative, machines don't. The machine may well be highly superior in terms of awareness and input, but if you don't know what to do with that awareness and input, it doesn't matter much.

    I'm excited about AI and sensors and such in terms of what it might be able to ASSIST we humans with. The rest, IMO, is sci-fi based on false assumptions. Unfortunately, what is driving this huge push has little to do with safety. It, as usual, is about $$$. And, I really fear what calamities will be caused by this greed-driven push to force us all into the box. And, unfortunately, I have little confidence others in related industries (i.e.: insurance, governments, etc.) have any better understanding of the flaws than the general public being suckered in by the hype and headlines.
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