Apple Patents Built-In iPhone Remote Unlocker, Engine Starter And Parking Locator For Cars

The USPTO published a number of Apple patent applications Tuesday, including two related to automobiles (via AppleInsider). The car patents both describe systems that can be built into future iPhones, replacing most of the functionality of your standard key fob with the smartphone, and providing a way to help drivers navigate the often maze-like interiors of parking garages to find their ride.

In one application, Apple describes what amounts to a series of different indoor positioning systems to help drivers locate their cars when parked. The system would involve pairing a car and an iPhone via Bluetooth, and then using that connection to automatically detect when a car ends up actually parking in a spot. Then, it uses sensor data communicated from the parking facility itself to peg a location.

Once a user returns to the garage, they can trigger the phone to find their current positioning data from the same system, and then provide actual guidance or directions back to their car itself. The patent describes parking garages in which devices are placed at regular intervals throughout to help facilitate the indoor location portion. Apple’s recent acquisition of indoor positioning system company WiFiSLAM could also work very well in terms of helping provide a way to make this system work.

The IPS element is interesting, but where Apple’s patent is really unique is in using on-board device sensors, including things like the camera and microphone, to determine automatically when a car parks to begin with to trigger the car location logging information. There are plenty of “where did I park my car” apps out there (though few boast IPS), but the automatic, fully-integrated way Apple’s system would work would make it so that you don’t even have to remember to activate it.

The other car-related application describes a system that would turn the iPhone into a remote car starter, unlocker, and essentially a parental control device for a target vehicle. The patent talks about using Bluetooth to pair a car and a handset, then allowing a user to choose their level of security, making it possible to have the phone unlock the car automatically based on proximity, or require a PIN to even use any car control functions.

Apple’s patent goes further than most remote starter/unlocker key fobs by allowing a user to set specific limits for particular devices, like making it possible to start the engine with a phone only during set hours, setting a max speed for use with a particular device, limiting access to infotainment services, and building in geofencing. All of these can be used in theft prevention, but also to set limits on say a teen child’s car permissions.

It’s about time that cars got tighter integration with mobile devices, in ways that make the best use of all the tech on board our modern smartphones. Many car companies seem to be open to working closer with Apple, too, so while there’s a lot of infrastructure changes described in these patents, we still could see these features make their way to shipping devices over the next few years.