GM Seeks Patent Wireless Collection of Data from Autos

By Steve Brachmann
July 3, 2014

GM headquarters in Detroit, MI

Headquartered in Detroit, MI, the General Motors Company is a multinational corporation which makes up a large share of the global auto manufacturing industry. Recently, GM has been in the news an awful lot, but not for the right reasons. The auto manufacturer has recalled millions of cars in recent months because of unresolved issues with a faulty ignition switch used on multiple years and models of cars, an issue which has led to 13 reported deaths and hundreds of injuries in GM vehicle owners and passengers. Although the corporation is setting up a compensation fund for the families of victims, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is pushing for Congress to increase the fine a manufacturer faces for failing to fix long-term issues to $300 million, up from a previous maximum fine of $35 million. Most recently, General Motors issued a stop sale order to American and Canadian car dealers to prevent sales of 2013 and 2014 Chevrolet Cruzes because of an airbag defect. In a bit of better news, the corporation has been making concerted efforts to increase renewable energy use at its facilities through solar panel arrays, and by the end of 2014 these should be able to generate about 38 megawatts of solar power across 13 facilities.

Although these may be difficult days for GM, here at IPWatchdog we understand that the amount and frequency of patenting activities undertaken by this corporation makes it impossible to skip them for our Companies We Follow series. As usual, we’re seeing a lot of patent applications and issued patents assigned to this corporation from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and almost all of them are directed at vehicular technologies. Today, we discuss a collection of inventions which we feel offer up a good representation of the technologies being developed for the next generation of cars, trucks and more.

Telematics systems are the focus of a number of patent applications which we delve into today, including today’s featured application, which uses on-board telematics to transmit important automobile information to a central facility. The system is capable of sending more data than previous systems by routing the data through a wireless mobile device used by the driver, reducing the cost of data transmission from the vehicle. Improved speech recognition for on-board computer system controls and a steering wheel light system designed to refocus a driver’s attention onto the road are also discussed.

General Motors enjoys a very strong intellectual property portfolio compared to many other car manufacturers, and its recently issued patents protect everything from steering systems for three-wheeled vehicles to space-effective cargo compartments. A couple of patents which we explore in-depth protect innovations involving navigational systems, including one that incorporates local landmarks into audio responses from a navigational system for directional guidance. We also noticed a patent for tires which can run while flat and produce less noise than other flat tires.

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Providing Vehicle Operating Information Using a Wireless Device
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140067152

The use of telematics systems, which involves the transmission of computerized data for machine control across long distances, has found an increasing number of applications in motor vehicles. Telematics systems which have been installed onto cars can communicate wirelessly with mobile devices through various networking protocols, like Bluetooth, to enable the transmission of data between the device and the car.

Unfortunately, the cost of transmitting data wirelessly can be expensive for users. Wireless service providers may charge customers based on the amount of data sent, the time of connection or both. This can create substantial customer charges which may make other functions of wireless data transmission through telematics systems cost-prohibitive. This would include the transmission of vehicle operating information to mobile devices, especially when multiple vehicles are owned by a single device owner.

This patent application was filed by General Motors with the USPTO in August 2012 to protect a method of collecting information from a vehicle through a wireless device. This method involves linking a device to a telematics system by creating either a wireless communications connection or through the use of an in-vehicle hardware dock for the device. Preferably, the telematics system could create a wireless link for voice and data communication through radio transmissions.

Essentially, this method is capable of reducing costs for users by communicating vehicle information to a central call center facility through a user’s wireless device when the device is present in the car. The vehicle operating information reported in this way involves many aspects of vehicle use which are important to monitor, such as fuel usage or odometer readings. The telematics system would also be enabled to transmit diagnostic trouble codes to the central facility for determining whether maintenance issues must be addressed.

Claim 1 of this GM patent application would give the corporation the right to protect:

“A method of collecting vehicle operating information using a wireless device, comprising the steps of: (a) communicatively linking a wireless device located within a vehicle to a vehicle telematics unit; (b) receiving vehicle data at the wireless device from the vehicle telematics unit using the link; (c) recording the received vehicle data at the wireless device; (d) detecting that the wireless device is no longer present in the vehicle; and (e) wirelessly transmitting the recorded vehicle data to a central facility using the wireless capabilities of the wireless device based on the detection in step (d).”

 

Other Patent Applications

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140159887, titled “Driver Alerts.”

General Motors is heavily involved in the development and manufacture of both vehicle parts and systems. As a result, we’re seeing a large number of innovations expressed in patent applications filed with the USPTO, even though research and development at GM is so focused on motor vehicles. As our featured application today shows, telematics has been an area of focus recently, and we’ve found a couple of other filings which would protect improvements to these on-board vehicle systems. Methods that would provide more accurate responses by telematics systems in response to vocal commands are described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140122385, which is titled Statistical Data Learning Under Privacy Constraints. This patent application would protect a system capable of learning statistical data pertaining to a user’s voice to support accurate responses. We were also intrigued by the anti-hacking security technology expressed in the filing U.S. Patent Application No. 20140031005, entitled Automated Vehicle Intrusion Device. This patent application would protect a method of identifying abnormal activity within a vehicle’s telematics system and collecting information about that abnormal event. This system has the added benefit of informing wireless cellular network providers about unknown gaps in coverage caused by physical buildings or topography.

Our recent search into GM’s recently filed patent applications returned many which discussed innovations in the field of driver safety, an area which many in the media have charged that the company has neglected. Although the ignition switch failure which has led to millions of recalls isn’t addressed here, we did feel that there were two inventions worth sharing with our readers. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140159887, filed under the title Driver Alerts, would protect a computer processor system to support a driver alert system which is designed to reduce instances of distracted driving. This alert system, designed to redirect driver focus to the road while creating a less intrusive alarm, would utilizes a series of lights integrated on the vehicle’s steering wheel. A method for quickly informing emergency personnel of a vehicle accident is described by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140074315, titled Vehicle-Incident Detection Method and System. This invention uses a cloud computing system to analyze vehicle information related to an incident and notify any authorities which should be contacted in response to the event.

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Issued Patents of Note

From U.S. Patent No. 8746302, entitled “Low Noise Run-Flat Tires.”

Although a number of the patent applications we featured today were assigned directly to General Motors, much of the patenting activity of this corporation is handled by the subsidiary organization GM Global Technology Operations LLC, also based in Detroit. In 2013, this subsidiary earned 1,626 U.S. patent grants, the 15th-most among any corporate entity operating in the world. Our most recent perusal of the patents which have been recently issued to General Motors showed us some intriguing vehicular innovations of various kinds, from improvements to on-board navigational systems to a variety of upgrades for vehicle steering operations.

One invention in the field of steering technologies for alternative vehicles, especially those using three wheels instead of four, was recently protected by GM. U.S. Patent No. 8762002, which is titled Steering System for Three-Wheeled Vehicle, protects a system that improves steering for vehicles which only use three ground-engaging wheels. This steering system connects wheels to the frame so that a wheel can be displaced laterally with respect to the frame during driving, improving vehicle stability. A flat tire can quickly become a large problem for a driver, but GM may have a way to prevent issues stemming from flat tires through the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8746302, entitled Low Noise Run-Flat Tires. These tires utilize a noise reducing foam within a tire cavity between the tire treads and sidewalls that reduces the noise created when the tire runs flat. The tire also includes a processing element which can initiate a noise alarm or a lighted alert display in response to operational issues within the tire. We also noticed an intriguing new configuration for cargo storage space within a vehicle protected by the recently issued U.S. Patent No. 8757695, issued under the title Flat Floor Cargo Management System. This patent protects a cargo storage system within a vehicle that uses a number of collapsible containers which can fold up to hold groceries and other cargo and then fold down to be removed.

We’ll conclude our look at GM’s recently patented technologies with a quick look at a couple of patents which protect upgrades to vehicle navigation systems developed by this corporation. U.S. Patent No. 8762051, which is titled Method and System for Providing Navigational Guidance Using Landmarks, protects a navigational system using an audio indicator that can incorporate known landmarks into directions. For example, the navigational system could inform a driver that to reach their destination they should turn in a certain direction after a known landmark, such as a public library or movie theater. Finally, we noticed a novel improvement that may encourage the development of autonomous (self-driving) or semi-autonomous vehicles protected by U.S. Patent No. 8750567, titled Road Structure Detection and Tracking. This patent protects a method that can detect the edges of a road for quicker analysis that informs the driving system whether a clear path exists ahead of the vehicle. This data can be used to inform various driving operations, including steering, braking and throttle use.

From U.S. Patent No. 8757695, titled “Flat Floor Cargo Management System.”

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 1 Comment comments.

  1. Mike O'Keeffe July 5, 2014 3:54 am

    Telematics from cars has been around for quite a while with Toyota and Denso being early protagonists of car based telephony and intelligent traffic systems but channeling via our ubiquitous mobile phone may be new, but I would not bet on it. There have been a spate of incidents recently of “Reinventing the wheel” where Ford got a European patent on ‘Start-Stop’ (which I successfully scotched), and GM got a patent on the gutterless car roof (also scotched by me, see http://www.articleonepartners.com/study/index/501). Its good to see Detroit take patents more seriously than before and leveraging a fine record of filing patents.