Apple has filed for and published a total 248 automobile-related patents since 2000, according to research conducted by Japanese news site Nikkei and Tokyo analytics firm Intellectual Property Landscape.
Patents cover self-driving technology, riding comfort, seats, suspensions, navigation, battery management, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity for car-to-car communication, and more. Apple has filed the most patents related to communication and navigation, followed by autonomous driving.
After Apple submits a patent application, it takes around 18 months for it to be published. Apple has so far had eight car-related patents published from 2021, but additional patents should be granted later this year, and the number of 2021 patents published is expected to exceed the number of patents Apple had published in 2020.
Car-related patent filings began picking up in 2016 after fewer than 10 per year in the 2010s, with Apple filing for 44. Patent filings ticked up even further in 2017, when Apple filed for a record 66 applications.
News of Apple’s work on some kind of self-driving vehicle first surfaced in 2014, and since then, we’ve heard regular rumors about Apple’s progress. The work on the car has shifted several times and there were moments when it looked like a full car was not going to happen, but in recent years, changes to the project indicate Apple is indeed pushing for some kind of electric autonomous vehicle to be released by the end of the decade.
Apple has been speaking with various vehicle manufacturers and part suppliers for the last couple years, but it is still not clear who exactly Apple plans to partner with (if any company) for its electric vehicle. Apple’s many patents related to windows, seats, suspension, and other physical car components reinforce speculation that Apple is going to release a car rather than simply focus on autonomous driving software.
Recent rumors indicate that Apple has ambitious plans for its self-driving vehicle, with the aim of changing the car market the way the iPhone changed the smartphone market. Apple is exploring a design with four seats that face inward, with no steering wheel or brake pedal.