Toyota Motor Corporation, headquartered in Toyota, Japan, is an industry leader for research and development in the automotive industry. The multinational corporation has a strong American presence as well; the Toyota Technical Center is located in Ann Arbor, MI. Recently, the Technical Center held a ceremony to celebrate the corporation’s top inventors for the past year.
The corporation and its subsidiaries were awarded 1,491 patents in 2012, the most for any automobile manufacturer according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Of particular note were inventors Minjuan Zhang, a manager at the Toyota Research Institute NA, and Charan Lota, manager at the Toyota Technical Center. Both of these inventors earned, separately, their 20th issued patents during 2012.
Today in IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we’re taking a look at recent Toyota patents to celebrate this incredible output of technological innovation from the Japanese car maker. Two patents we feature here include Zhang and Lota as part of the development team. One patent protects a new multi-layer exterior for vehicles that reflects a wider range of light, providing a vehicle better protection from damaging sunlight rays. Another patent protects a smart calendar system that can inform onboard GPS routing based on regular errands.
We’re also looking at a few intriguing patent applications that detail the future of Toyota’s vehicle development operations. Two applications pertain to hybrid vehicles: one provides better electrical system turnoff in the case of a vehicle crash, while another improves electrical voltage output while a vehicle idles in park. A final patent application featured here would protect a dynamic travel routing system that can learn favorite destinations and forget unused destinations.
Systems and Methods for a Vehicle Smart Calendar
U.S. Patent No. 8442758
Vehicles with onboard routing software allow drivers to quickly find a direct route between their current location and a chosen destination. These routing applications are often fairly static, however, and only provide a straight route between two destinations. Dynamic routing for new destinations, such as when a forgotten errand is remembered while driving, is not possible through these systems.
This patent, assigned to a group of Toyota inventors that includes Charan Lota, protects a system of dynamic vehicle routing which is supported by a smart calendar. The calendar stores information on regular errands or appointments which are important to a user. The calendar sends a reminder to a user before the event and can adjust routing if it detects that a user must add a destination to their route based on the schedule.
Claim 1 of this patent provides protections over:
“A vehicle for providing a vehicle smart calendar comprising: vehicle computing device that stores logic that, when executed by a computing device, causes the vehicle computing device to perform at least the following: retrieve remotely stored schedule information from a user-specific electronic calendar for a user, the remotely stored schedule information comprising an upcoming event scheduled at a for a predetermined future time and at a predetermined location; compare the remotely stored schedule information to a current time and a current vehicle location; determine whether the upcoming event is associated with an accessory; in response to determining that the upcoming event is associated with an accessory, determine whether the accessory is currently located in the vehicle; in response to determining that the accessory is not currently located in the vehicle, determine a current location of the accessory; calculate a travel time to the accessory and then to the predetermined location from the current vehicle location; determine, from the travel time, a preferred time for departure to reach the accessory and the upcoming event before the future time; provide a reminder of the upcoming event at a predetermined time prior to the preferred time for departure; and provide routing data to the accessory and then to the predetermined location from the current vehicle location.”
Methods for Producing Omni-Directional Multi-Layer Photonic Structures
U.S. Patent No. 8329247
The ability to reflect different wavelengths of light away from a vehicle can help prevent against the degradation of the vehicle’s exterior appearance and internal systems. For example, although most pigments will reflect a wide range of ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) rays from a vehicle’s surface, the amount that is absorbed can result in chalking and cracking of the car’s exterior surfaces. Internally, heat buildup from this absorption can affect air conditioning and other systems.
This patent, awarded to a group of Toyota inventors including Minjuan Zhang, would create a multi-layer surface that reflects more UV and IR rays away from the car. This radiant energy would be reflected away from the vehicle’s surface in all directions, hence the use of the term “omni-directional.” The thickness of the outer multi-layer would vary based on the angle which sunlight would hit that portion of the vehicle.
As Claim 1 states, Mr. Zhang and others have devised the following for Toyota:
“A method for producing a multi-layer photonic structure comprising at least one group of alternating layers of high index material and low index material, the method comprising: determining a characteristic property function for the multi-layer photonic structure; determining a thickness multiplier for the at least one group of alternating layers by fitting the characteristic property function to a target profile; adjusting the characteristic property function with the determined thickness multiplier; and comparing an adjusted characteristic property function to the target profile, wherein, when the adjusted characteristic property function does not approximate the target profile, at least one additional group of layers is added to the multi-layer photonic structure.”
Fuel Cell System
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130176759
Fuel cell systems on electric vehicles using alternative fuels include a fuel cell, which creates a current; a drive motor, which runs on the electric current produced by the cell; and a converter that increases the fuel cell’s output voltage based on the needs of the motor. When a fuel cell vehicle is idle, as in the case of a traffic jam, the drive motor does not need more electricity so the converter reduces the output voltage. However, this can affect other systems within the car that draw electricity.
Toyota has filed a patent application with the USPTO for a system of controlling the converter’s voltage output to improve vehicle operation. This system utilizes a control unit that has a predetermined coefficient for electrical output. In this way, even if the voltage required by the motor falls below the rate of electricity needed to operate the car idly, the electrical output from the fuel cell’s converter will keep the vehicle operational.
Claim 1 of this Toyota patent application would protect:
“A fuel cell system comprising: a converter disposed between a fuel cell and a load to increase an output voltage of the fuel cell; and a control unit that controls the converter at a predetermined duty ratio, wherein the control unit determines a duty command value for the converter from a feed-forward duty and a feed-back duty which are calculated using a command value of a reactor current that flows through a reactor in the converter and/or using a measurement value of the reactor current, and wherein, in a low-load operation in which a required output from the fuel cell is equal to or lower than a predetermined value, the control unit sets, as a measurement value of the reactor current that increases and decreases along with switching control of a switching device in the converter at a predetermined duty ratio, a value obtained by multiplying a midpoint measurement value measured at an intermediate time of an on-duty period by a predetermined coefficient.”
Journey Learning System
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130158855
Global-positioning systems (GPS) for vehicles may have a set of predetermined destinations uploaded by a user that they can select for quick routing to a favored location from anywhere. These vehicle routing systems are not conducive to determining regular destinations for a particular user, so bookmarked destinations are listed without taking priority of use into consideration. Also, obsolete destinations that a user hasn’t selected for years must be deleted manually by a user.
This patent application, filed by Toyota, would protect a system of smart GPS learning for common destinations. This system uses a frequency module to determine how often a destination is selected by a user, creating a priority system for destinations pre-programmed onto a GPS. The frequency module can also determine destinations to delete if they’re not recently selected by a driver.
As Claim 1 explains, Toyota is seeking the legal right to protect:
“A method comprising: converting a set of driver history data to a set of learning parameters; analyzing the set of learning parameters and current journey data to generate estimated journey data describing one or more potential journeys; retrieving a set of current status data; analyzing the estimated journey data and the set of current status data to determine one or more metrics associated with the estimated journey data; determining one or more quality scores associated with the estimated journey data based at least in part on the one or more metrics; determining one or more status summaries and one or more estimate summaries; associating the one or more status summaries and the one or more estimate summaries with the estimated journey data; outputting display data for depicting the estimated journey data, the one or more status summaries and the one or more estimate summaries on a display; and storing the current journey data as additional driver history data.”
Vehicle Crash Detection Device
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130147498
When a hybrid vehicle is involved in a crash, the internal electronic components may be damaged to the point that they cannot perform anymore. However, if the power supply is still on, it may create a dangerous electrical leak that could affect passengers and anyone standing nearby.
This Toyota patent application has been filed to protect an innovative system of detecting a large impact which has affected internal electrical systems, and shutting those systems down promptly. This system uses metal gaskets installed into electrical component cases with an electric conductor installed within the gasket. A detection unit could determine that the conductor on the gasket has been greatly damaged, prompting an electrical shutoff if any component has been damaged from a crash.
Claim 1 of this patent application would afford Toyota the right to protect:
“A vehicle crash detection device, comprising: a case for accommodating an electric device, wherein the case has gaskets provided on a circumference of the case, a conductor provided in the gasket so as to be electrically insulated from the case, and detection means for determining an electric conductive state of the conductor to thereby detect a crash, the vehicle crash detection device further comprising a reference voltage source for applying a reference voltage to the conductor, wherein the case is grounded, and the detection means detects a crash when a voltage of the conductor is identical to a ground voltage or the reference voltage.”