Tech giant Apple, which usually makes iPhones and laptops like whatever you’re reading this on right now, has been granted a patent for something outside its usual fare: a retractable bumper for a car.
Last week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple approval for the 2019-published patent titled “Extendable bumpers for vehicles.” The creation was dreamed up with the idea of providing vehicles a dynamic length by allowing the front and rear bumpers to extend and contract on command.
Here’s how it works, best we can tell: an inflatable bladder is nested behind the bumper of the vehicle. Upon command—whether it be putting the vehicle in gear, or simply switching it on—the bladder is inflated by gas and the bumper protrudes from its collapsed position. A flexible hinge is fitted to the assembly to ensure that the bumper remains connected to the vehicle body in either the extended or collapsed position.
Apple says in the filing that this feature would allow vehicles to potentially fit in tighter parking spaces by dynamically repositioning the bumper when needed. This type of invention could also create a unique visual appearance along the front and rear of the vehicle which would otherwise be impossible due to safety standards. It’s not clear how this would play with the current technology of plastic bumper covers and paints.
Safety was also on Apple’s hivemind when submitting the patent. The electronics manufacturer notes that an air cushion has the ability to provide added protection for a vehicle involved in a collision, as well as potentially reducing injuries to pedestrians if struck.
Cushioned bumpers may seem similar to an older technology: bumper shock absorbers. While the oil-filled struts were fixed in place, the safety purposes envisioned by automakers were similar. However, Apple’s patent specifically covers a gas-filled system that can dynamically reshape a bumper in addition to the safety benefits.
What does this mean for the supposed upcoming Apple Car? It’s still unknown, really. Apple patents a great number of concepts that never make it to the shelf, and the number of patents issued under Project Titan is no exception. This particular example was filed way back in 2016, right around the time when the Apple Car project was supposedly killed off. That was five years ago and the auto industry works surprisingly fast, so this patent may have been something Apple was working on at one point but not so much right now. Because of that, it’s not necessarily a technology that drivers will see on the road any time soon (if at all).
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