The patent, applied for in September 2017 and published last week, is framed as a way to “address problems with vehicles in motion that may result in motion sickness for passengers” by replacing views of the real world with virtual environments. On top of that, the patent proposes at least one VR controller that generates virtual content for projection and a mechanism for projecting onto windows of the vehicle. The visuals could then sync with an “active seat” and motion sensors, integrating the physical effects of driving (like turning around corners or stopping at a red light) into these virtual environments. Augmented reality is also mentioned, where content is displayed in a view of the real world in the front of the vehicle. As far as uses for all this? Per Apple’s patent:
Passengers may choose to have relaxing virtual experiences … such as floating down a river or soaring over the landscape in a hang glider, or exciting virtual experiences such as a car chase or driving through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with zombies attacking … if the vehicle stops at a red light or for some other reason when fleeing zombies … the virtual experience may cause the vehicle to appear to stall and not allow the car to be restarted until the light turns green to build suspense.
These experiences can be interactive and shared with multiple passengers. In one example, the patent says regarding the hang glider experience, “The passengers may drop virtual water balloons onto features in the environment.” It also mentions more practical applications for productivity, like holding a virtual meeting with avatars around a table.
There have been rumors of Apple developing self-driving cars under the codename “Project Titan” since 2015, with apparent test vehicles spotted in October 2017. The company did apply for and receive a permit for testing autonomous cars on public roads in California, but reports say that efforts to build a car from scratch have been scrapped in favor of focusing on autonomous software existing automakers can use. Last July, CEO Tim Cook confirmed in an interview that Apple is currently “focusing on autonomous systems.”
Apple isn’t the first company to consider what to do with the interior real estate of autonomous cars. Late last year, Intel said it was teaming up with Warner Bros. to create “in-cabin, immersive experiences in autonomous vehicle settings.” At the time, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said that the company imagined riders “enjoying immersive experiences never seen before, courtesy of in-cabin virtual reality and augmented reality innovations.”