Apple invention helps iPhone users find their parked car despite poor cell, GPS reception

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2015
A pair of Apple patent applications discovered on Thursday describe a system that automatically determines when and where a user parks their car, and later directs them back to the vehicle without requiring a data connection or GPS signal.


Source: USPTO


As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's applications for "Automatic identification of vehicle location" and "Vehicle location in weak location signal scenarios" suggest the company is looking to integrate high-level vehicle-related functionality into iOS. Specifically, the filings outline a convenience feature that can automatically decide when a user parks their car, then save that position for later retrieval and on-foot navigation.

The first step in Apple's invention is to intelligently determine when and where a user parks. In one embodiment, the handset establishes a data connection with a compatible vehicle via any suitable means of communication, though Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE are described in detail.

Some embodiments rely on the device-to-car connection to determine when a user enters or parks a vehicle. For example, when an initial pairing operation is complete, perhaps triggered by a "door open" signal or engine ignition, the system may decide the user has entered or is about to enter the car. In the same way, a disconnection may signal a user has turned the car off and is parked. With a Bluetooth connection, the car is able to transmit pertinent system information to the iPhone for more accurate determination.




Other measures of deducing a vehicle's operational state -- whether the car is parked, in motion or undetermined -- include sensor output from an iPhone's accelerometer or GPS signal processing.

Once a car is classified as parked, the system plots the position and continues to track a user's movement as they walk away. In certain optimal scenarios, a mobile device would be in constant communication with a GPS signal, though this is not always possible due to natural and manmade obstructions.

In lieu of GPS, the iPhone relies on onboard sensors to estimate with some accuracy the movement of a user. By combining sporadic GPS signal locks with accelerometer data, for example, an iPhone is able to "look forward" or "look backward" from a given point in time to deduce the location of a user proximate to their car.

Any number of techniques may be applied for tracking purposes, like motion data processing, time stamps, gyroscope data, pedometer data and more. Perhaps most applicable in driving and walking scenarios is the accelerometer, which can be used to determine motion, direction and speed over time.


Illustration showing user movement proximate to their car.


Apple also notes that the above methods for device location determination during periods of weak signal reception can be applied while driving, especially helpful when traveling through canyons or areas with weak cell reception.

Once outside the vehicle, an iPhone can track a user's movement via GPS or any of the previously discussed methods. To find their way back to the parked car, users can ask Siri for directions with a simple command like, "Find my car." In response, a map, GUI or audio directions are provided for quick navigation.

It is unknown if Apple intends to implement the feature described above in a future iOS build, though the company has already announced work on advanced vehicle integration. Car Play was unveiled in 2013 and promises to bring iOS capabilities like Siri, navigation, iMessage and more to vehicle infotainment systems. An integrated parked car mapping solution would be a good fit, but evidence of a rollout has yet to surface.

Apple's automatic car parking and navigation patent applications were first filed for in February 2013 and credit Jason A. Skinder, Stephen O. Lemay, Bradford A. Moore, Seejo K. Pylappan, Christopher Blumenberg, Marcel van Os and Devrim Varoglu as their inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 53
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member
    I wonder what the range on the iBeacon device is and whether or not that would be a good thing to build into or add onto a car. Although it mint have to be a restricted access devices that doesn't broadcast to everyone - not that people can't see your car there - but privacy and security might be concerns if your car is highlighted as belonging to someone who owns expensive technology.
  • Reply 2 of 53
    zoffdinozoffdino Posts: 192member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by lilgto64 View Post



    I wonder what the range on the iBeacon device is and whether or not that would be a good thing to build into or add onto a car. Although it mint have to be a restricted access devices that doesn't broadcast to everyone - not that people can't see your car there - but privacy and security might be concerns if your car is highlighted as belonging to someone who owns expensive technology.

    I don't see what's the problem is. Other people with an iPhone will just see "there's a car with iBeacon here". Over time it will be a great many number of cars in the parking lot. I bet the Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, etc. are more attractive break in targets than my Chevrolet Cruz.

  • Reply 3 of 53
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by zoffdino View Post

     

    I don't see what's the problem is. Other people with an iPhone will just see "there's a car with iBeacon here". Over time it will be a great many number of cars in the parking lot. I bet the Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, etc. are more attractive break in targets than my Chevrolet Cruz.


    I am not familiar with how the beacons work - could potentially be a backdoor - or perhaps someone could use it to determine which cars have been parked for how long. 

     

    Some folks might cry Big Brother and anyone who voluntarily gives away the position of their car all the time might as well just forward all their emails, phone calls, and text messages to the NSA - never considering that this likely would not be any bigger a breach of their personal data and location than is already possible with the devices they already have with them. 

     

    As with anything there may be unforeseen uses, some of which may provide additional benefits and safety etc and others may introduce additional risks and vulnerabilities. 

  • Reply 4 of 53
    d4njvrzfd4njvrzf Posts: 797member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    In lieu of GPS, the iPhone relies on onboard sensors to estimate with some accuracy the movement of a user. By combining sporadic GPS signal locks with accelerometer data, for example, an iPhone is able to "look forward" or "look backward" from a given point in time to deduce the location of a user proximate to their car.



    Any number of techniques may be applied for tracking purposes, like motion data processing, time stamps, gyroscope data, pedometer data and more. Perhaps most applicable in driving and walking scenarios is the accelerometer, which can be used to determine motion, direction and speed over time.

     

    Isn't this sort of how airplane inertial navigation systems work? You fix an initial position, and the system computes your current position by tracking your acceleration and using newton's equations of motion. It's how airplanes tracked their position before the era of GPS.

  • Reply 5 of 53
    jm6032jm6032 Posts: 147member

    There was a time before GPS... This type of navigation, using accelerometers, is called Inertial Navigation System (INS). It's been in use on aircraft for decades. Using it on modern hand held devices is cool. Should have seen this coming.

  • Reply 6 of 53
    plovellplovell Posts: 824member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by lilgto64 View Post



    I wonder what the range on the iBeacon device is and whether or not that would be a good thing to build into or add onto a car. Although it mint have to be a restricted access devices that doesn't broadcast to everyone - not that people can't see your car there - but privacy and security might be concerns if your car is highlighted as belonging to someone who owns expensive technology.

    You can use a TrackR button for exactly this purpose. It uses Bluetooth LE so the battery will last a year. When your iPhone goes out of range it remembers where it last "saw" the button - and that's your car's location. Of course, this still requires some reasonable GPS capability, so it's not so good for the canyon-buildings etc.

     

    But it's something you can do today. I have also seems ads for "Tile" and they seem to be similar. I have no relation to TrackR other than having purchased some.

  • Reply 7 of 53
    plovellplovell Posts: 824member

    Of course, for any car that pairs with a phone via Bluetooth, there's a very simple and reliable way to know when the car is parked. No need for fancy algorithms  -  just monitor when the Bluetooth signal from the car fades out.

     

    I am amazed that Apple has not does this already.

  • Reply 8 of 53
    inklinginkling Posts: 756member
    Sounds way too complicated to be practical and perhaps designed a bit too much for complete idiots. Much better to just take a few pictures. Get one of the parking level and parking spot number. Take another showing your car as it appears from some key location like the elevator or parking lot entrance. Heck, there's probably an app for that.

    Apple and the rest of the tech industry are missing one the best bets for urban location--inserting tracking data and timing signals into digital television signals. Use two or more such stations to get a location much like GPS uses several satellites.

    Such a system would be strong precisely where GPS is weak. Most television stations are in or near big cities. They use high power and their antennas concentrate most of their signal close to the ground. TV stations even used lower frequencies that penetrate buildings better. With GPS, the sky needs to be visible. The digital TV location, the horizon is what matters.

    Once designed and tested, digital TV location could be built into GPS chips, taking over when GPS fails or becomes erratic.
  • Reply 9 of 53
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member

    Take a photo.  If you can't find the carpark, suffer.

  • Reply 10 of 53
    negafoxnegafox Posts: 480member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

     

    Take a photo.  If you can't find the carpark, suffer.


    This is exactly what I do when I park at some random side street to get the beach or even Disneyland. I have not found the GPS on phones to be accurate enough to know exactly where I parked -- just a rough area.

  • Reply 11 of 53
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Negafox View Post

     
    This is exactly what I do when I park at some random side street to get the beach or even Disneyland. I have not found the GPS on phones to be accurate enough to know exactly where I parked -- just a rough area.


    If your iPhone GPS is that inaccurate, you should take it in an get it replaced. Mine is accurate within about a meter or two, even inside in my home.

  • Reply 12 of 53
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,693member
    jm6032 wrote: »
    There was a time before GPS... This type of navigation, using accelerometers, is called Inertial Navigation System (INS). It's been in use on aircraft for decades. Using it on modern hand held devices is cool. Should have seen this coming.

    Before that there was the tennis ball on the car's ariel. ;)
  • Reply 13 of 53

    Google Now already incorporates this, but it is far from this accurate. It just gives you a point and the car could be within a hundred square feet of the ellipse. But it does work all the time, and makes no difference if it is in a garage.

     

    OnStar is very accurate to guide you to your car if in an open area. Park in a multistory car park and you are SOL.

     

    Looks like Apple is trying to merge the two to give you accurate guidance directly to your car, regardless of where you parked. Only issue I see left is not in the X and Y axis, but the Z axis. Elevation could be an issue on multistory car parks or cities like San Francisco.

  • Reply 14 of 53

    Finally Siri will have a useful response when I ask her, "Dude, where's my car?"

  • Reply 15 of 53
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Lloydbm4 View Post

     

    Only issue I see left is not in the X and Y axis, but the Z axis. Elevation could be an issue on multistory car parks or cities like San Francisco.


    I've been using a tried and true method for those multilevel car parks. When I park, I make a mental note of the section and number, that is always posted prominently.

  • Reply 16 of 53
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    This is one of the features in the Automatic app. I find it to be useful as I oft use street parking and rarely remember in the morning until I see my car and think, "Oh yeah, now I remember parking there."
  • Reply 17 of 53
    plovellplovell Posts: 824member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Lloydbm4 View Post

     

    OnStar is very accurate to guide you to your car if in an open area. Park in a multistory car park and you are SOL.

     

    Looks like Apple is trying to merge the two to give you accurate guidance directly to your car, regardless of where you parked. Only issue I see left is not in the X and Y axis, but the Z axis. Elevation could be an issue on multistory car parks or cities like San Francisco.


    Interestingly, the iOS app "NavClock" (free) gives a reasonably accurate estimate of height, using GPS. the accuracy is typically 30' or so when you start but gets down to 9' or so after a short while. That should be enough to determine which floor in a multistory garage.

     

    I wonder if a Bluetooth connection to the car is able to access the car's GPS (assuming it has one, as mine does). That could be even better, with a bigger antenna.

  • Reply 18 of 53
    I prefer Google's solution to this problem: The car finds you.
  • Reply 19 of 53
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post



    This is one of the features in the Automatic app. I find it to be useful as I oft use street parking and rarely remember in the morning until I see my car and think, "Oh yeah, now I remember parking there."

    Is that app any good? It gets some decent reviews. I'm not sure that i need anything like that as I'm already a super conservative driver and I have never lost track of where I parked either, even at  Lot C at LAX for two weeks.

  • Reply 20 of 53
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    mstone wrote: »
    Is that app any good? It gets some decent reviews. I'm not sure that i need anything like that as I'm already a super conservative driver and I have never lost track of where I parked either.

    1) The app is fine and it's free, but you'll have to purchase the $99 BT 4.0 device that plugs into your OBD port.

    2) I've never lost my car but I do space out on the location information from time to time, especially in an area that is large and/or obscured views, that I frequent often, and where I can picture my car being in pretty much every spot at one time or another.

    3) As for being a conservative driver, I thought I was, too, but Automatic showed me how I can do better. I've moved my driving efficiency from about an average of 30 MPG to 40 MPG by using the device. Those audible warnings from the OBD device can help remind you you've just started exceeding the speed limit you wanted the device to warn you about. It's definitely not for everyone but I find it helpful in reducing fuel costs, as well as wear and tear.

    4) When I drive for work I now set that cruise control at a nice 60 MPH on the highway which makes for a more relaxing and stress free drive.
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