After the recent fatal accident by an Uber autonomous test-car killing a cyclist crossing the street (watch here), a recently granted Amazon patent hints at Amazon’s future focus in the tech field.
How can Amazon autonomously drive your car differently to the other big names in this field (Tesla, Mercedes, Uber, Google)? Let’s quickly dissect the Amazon patent (and how a competitor might circumvent it!)
US 9,975,483 entitled “Driver Assist Using Smart Mobile Devices” was published and granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on 22 May 2018.
The first main claim of this application recites a method of providing operator assistance. It works by having a camera on one side of the device [e.g. a smartphone’s “selfie” camera] monitoring the driver’s face and determining which way the driver is looking. A second camera [e.g. the smartphone’s rear main camera] monitors the road ahead and looks for hazards.
If the rear camera sees a hazard which is too close and which is not within the driver’s gaze (which, remember, is being monitored by the ‘selfie’ camera), it provides an audible alert to the driver and gives a steering instruction.
The patent specification also gives an option for the App to control the car directly.
Given that the basic premise of this invention only requires a smart phone, it would appear that Amazon is considering providing self-driving-style technology to the masses, even those with older cars. An interesting and exciting prospect, if you’re trusting enough!
Unusually, this patent has only just been made publicly available, despite being filed back in 2013 (most patent applications will publish automatically after a year and a half). This is because Amazon requested non-publication, something which is available to Patentees in the US if they do not intend to file foreign equivalent patent applications.
Potentially, Amazon did this is because they did not want competitors to know what they were up to. This perhaps implies that they are quite serious about this technology, since competitors will monitor each other’s patent filings.
How would a competitor, therefore, circumvent this patent? An easy option would be to copy the technology outside of the USA! If Amazon has only patented the idea in the USA, then they have no rights outside of that market!
The patent also has a claim to help people find their parked car. This works by the phone storing the GPS coordinates of the phone when it determines that the car stopped moving. For some people in Albright IP’s home town of Cheltenham, this bit of tech can’t come soon enough!