Guest Column: Spotting Inventive Trends for Autonomous Vehicles – Mitigating Environmental Conditions

The prevalence of autonomous vehicles has increased in recent years. It is projected that approximately 58 million units will be sold by 2030.1 To improve vehicle autonomy, safety, and operation, vehicle manufacturers are inventing and developing more features. These features, whether in their entireties or components thereof, are protected by one or more intellectual property assets—patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and copyright.2

As there is less human input while the autonomous vehicle is operational (i.e., being driven), autonomous vehicle development includes detecting and accounting for environmental conditions. These environmental conditions can affect the safety and operation of the autonomous vehicles. For example, an application, published on May 6, 2021 and assigned to Daimler AG, discloses “a method for reacting to particles in a vehicle environment.”3 In the application, the assignee contends (as translated) that

[d]ust, smoke and / or sand particles carried by the air make safe operation of an at least partially automated controllable vehicle more difficult, since sensors used for environment monitoring can be restricted in their functionality. For example, reflections on the particles carried by the air can lead to comparatively strong noise in sensor data generated by environmental monitoring sensors. This can lead to incorrect measurements, which causes so-called false / positive and / or false / negative measurements. Such incorrect measurements can lead to dangerous driving situations.4

The assignee also contends that the particles can also be deposited on the sensors, thereby affecting field of view or general performance.5

            The assignee proposes to solve this problem by detecting a particle concentration and comparing the particle concentration against a normal state, as shown or defined by a threshold concentration. Then, based on the comparison, the vehicle can output a report (i.e., to a human operator) or a message to a control system of an autonomous vehicle. The human or autonomous vehicle can then act accordingly, such as to avoid the particles (e.g., stop or change direction) or reduce the impact of or engagement with the particles (e.g., turn on windshield wipers).

            Autonomous vehicles, just like humans, need to be able to account for the environment which in the vehicles are operating. This includes environmental conditions that affect visibility and vehicle performance (e.g., traction). As can be seen based on the application above, a current trend is to improve or reduce environmental impact, such as by improving sensor operation or equipping autonomous vehicles with the necessary, or even extra, sensors in coordination with automated controls.



1 Autonomous Vehicle Market by Automation Level, by Application, by Component - Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2020-2030, April 2020. https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/5206354/autonomous-vehicle-market-by-automation-level-by

2 This article is generally focused on patent trends associated with autonomous vehicles. Trademarks and copyrights generally protect other aspects of innovation or intellectual property. Trade secrets, as is reflected in the name, remain secret.

3 German Application No. DE102021001453, filed March 19, 2021, ¶[0001].

4 Id. at ¶[0004].

5 See, id. at ¶[0005].

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