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Apple Files Patent for Hands-Free Keyless Entry System Using iPhone, Apple Watch

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Apple’s latest patent reveals that it could be working on something for its rumoured-to-be-recently-restarted Apple Car project.

According to a new post from Patently Apple, the patent application for “Enhanced automotive passive entry,” published on Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describes ways that could be used to improve upon the key fob used for keyless entry functions found in many vehicles.

Lots of modern cars allow entry using a key fob, and some cars allow starting by a button when the key fob is inside the car. Such operation is called passive entry and passive start, which use a position of the key fob to unlock the car, start the car, and provide other functionalities.

The location of the key fob is determined using magnetic signals emitted from magnetic antennas in the car, which are then measured by the key fob and sent to the car for determining a location of the key fob.

“Methods and devices are provided for allowing a mobile device (e.g., a key fob or a consumer electronic device, such as a mobile phone, watch, or other wearable device) to interact with a vehicle such that a location of the mobile device can be determined by the vehicle, thereby enabling certain functionality of the vehicle,” reads the patent application. “A device may include both RF antenna(s) and magnetic antenna(s) for determining a location of a mobile device relative to the vehicle.”

While we can’t be sure, it sure does sound like Apple is claiming that an iPhone or Apple Watch could be used in substitute of a normal passive entry/start key fob. The filing even notes that key fobs can be “bulky and be an additional item that a user must carry,” and this technology would make it so that drivers have one less thing they would need to carry around with them on a daily basis.

“Such a hybrid approach can provide various advantages. Existing magnetic coils on a mobile device (e.g., for charging or communication) may be re-used for distance measurements that are supplemented by the RF measurements,” continues the patent application. “Any device antenna may provide measurements to a machine learning model that determines a region in which the mobile device resides, based on training measurements in the regions.”

While the patent is certainly an intriguing idea, it’s important to keep in mind that Apple is granted patents quite frequently, and this one, in particular, could never see the light of day, nor does it confirm that Apple is indeed working on a car (as much as we hope it is).

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