An impressive swath of the automobile manufacturing market worldwide is controlled by the Toyota Motor Corporation of Toyota, Japan, one of the world’s largest carmakers. Toyota is staking a large claim in the world of alternative energy vehicles by unveiling the Toyota FCV, a fuel cell vehicle that will be released in Japan during summer 2015 for a retail price of around $70,000 USD. In a year that has seen millions of cars recalled by major manufacturers, Toyota has recently issued its own recall of 2.3 million vehicles due to an airbag defect. In the world of technology development, Toyota is partnering with IBM to build a platform for application development for Toyota’s in-car telematics systems.
IPWatchdog is always interested in covering the world’s most innovative business entities in the Companies We Follow series. Today, we take a glance at the many inventions and innovations being researched and developed by this major automobile manufacturer. The patent applications filed by Toyota with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office detail an interesting future in vehicle development for this Japanese multinational corporation and its subsidiaries. We also take a close look at many recently issued patents to see Toyota’s standing in the world of intellectual property protection.
Today’s featured application discusses a system designed to better provide warning information to drivers without distracting a driver or displaying redundant information on multiple screens. This system would also ensure that drivers receive the warning message even if the heads-up display or another screen is malfunctioning. Navigational systems for self-driving cars are described in another couple of patent applications which we discovered, as well as some inventions related to hybrid electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Patent grants make up the major part of any company’s strength in intellectual property, and Toyota enjoys the results of a very active organization in terms of patent filings. Toyota has recently been issued a great deal of patents related to vehicles powered by alternative forms of energy, including one which allows for pre-cooling of a hydrogen tank for faster refueling. We also discuss a patent which protects a system for measuring a safe distance between cars during nighttime, as well as another with protects a driving support system which incorporates information about the travel environment for aiding driver actions.
Vehicle Display Systems with Visual Warning Management
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140180536
Vehicles use a number of display screens in order to transmit information which may be important to the driver or passengers within a vehicle. Vehicle speed, fuel usage and navigational direction may be provided to a driver through a heads-up display (HUD) which projects light onto a window surface for easy viewing of data. Other display screens within the vehicle may also be configured to present this information to car occupants.
With a plurality of screens available for displaying information, there exists a need for better management systems for determining which information should be displayed and what screen it should be displayed upon. In some current systems, it’s possible for informational to be displayed redundantly on multiple screens. It could also be advantageous to prioritize information which is displayed so that important warnings could more easily be communicated to drivers.
This patent application was filed by Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America with the USPTO in December 2012, and it would protect a vehicle diagnostic and display system. The system includes a diagnostic processor which can receive data on warning conditions from a multitude of sensors. In response, a display processor displays a visual warning notice on a first or second screen.
The sensors which provide information to the diagnostic processor monitor a variety of systems, including coolant, oil pressure, anti-lock brakes and tires. The visual warnings can be displayed in a number of forms which could include words, numbers or symbols as well as other indicators, such as flashing lights. This system is designed so that warnings are not provided on separate screens, which may distract a driver, or can divert the message to a second display if the first display is not working properly.
As Claim 1 states, Toyota is seeking the right to protect:
“A vehicle diagnostic and display system, comprising: a vehicle diagnostic system comprising: one or more sensors; and a diagnostic processor that receives a signal from the one or more sensors indicative of a vehicle condition and determines if a warning condition is present based on the signal; and a vehicle display system comprising: a first display; a second display; and a display processor that displays a visual warning received from the diagnostic processor on only one of the first and second displays.”
Other Patent Applications
In 2012, Toyota was the world’s leading manufacturer of vehicles, producing a total exceeding 10 million units, almost one million more than 2nd-place General Motors. As a worldwide leader in auto sales, it stands to reason that the corporation would be responsible for a breadth of research and development in automobile fields. Much like we saw in our recent coverage of GM, we’re noticing a couple of inventions which relate to systems of autonomous driving technologies, also known as self-driving cars. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140180526, which is titled Autonomous Navigation Through Obstacles, would protect a computer-implemented system which could navigate a mobile autonomous system through obstacles. This technology has been developed to aid in instances where autonomous driving systems, particularly for robotics, must navigate dynamic environments posed by heavy crowds, which includes a variety of static and mobile obstacles. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140172290, entitled Navigation of On-Road Vehicle Based on Vertical Elements, would protect an apparatus comprised of a navigational unit which determines the position of a vehicle as well as external objects surrounding the vehicle. This system can be used for autonomous vehicles so that they can detect curbs, road signs and other off-road elements.
We were also intrigued by a couple of patent applications filed which detail improvements to battery packs and other energy storage systems in use by vehicles. Battery packs for use in hybrid and electric vehicles are the central focus of the innovation that would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140154530, filed under the title Battery Pack and Vehicle Provided With Same. This invention involves a new configuration for the battery cells and electrodes that inhibits a disconnected fuse from reconnecting to the battery due to melting of the electrode’s fixing part. Improvements to fuel cells, which can convert the chemical energy of hydrogen or other gasses into electrical energy, were discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140178778, titled Fuel Cell System. The electrodes of a fuel cell often encounter a lot of humidity and must be dried effectively to support proper power generation performance. The fuel cell system which would be protected here utilizes a humidification and drying sequence which reduces stress on the electrolyte membrane and improves durability of the electrolyte.
Issued Patents of Note (Images: distance measuring.png; driving support system.png)
The entire Toyota organization has collected one of the world’s stronger intellectual property portfolio over the course of time. Toyota’s main manufacturing company, Toyota Jidosha, was 21st overall during 2013 in terms of global entities which earned U.S. patent grants that year. The total of 1,284 U.S. patent grants doesn’t even take into account innovations from subsidiaries which we’ve included here, like Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America. The recently issued patents which we noticed in our latest database search here at IPWatchdog protect innovations related to energy storage and navigation as well as some other intriguing system that are designed to improve the driving experience.
Fuel cells developed by Toyota to run on hydrogen fuels will be supported by better systems of refueling these energy storage devices which is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8752596, which is titled Hydrogen Filling System and Hydrogen Filling Method. One issue in refueling hydrogen fuel cells is that the fuel storage tank for the hydrogen is often not properly cooled when a driver reaches a fueling station, forcing that driver to wait. This fuel cell design utilizes a temperature cooling system which can start the cooling of the tank in response to a low fuel level, which indicates that the driver will need to refuel soon. Toyota is also heavily involved in the development of electric hybrid vehicles which use battery packs instead of fuel cells as their main form of energy storage, which is evidenced by U.S. Patent No. 8755964, entitled Hybrid Vehicle. This patent relates to the use of an outlet on a hybrid car which can provide electricity to run an appliance or device with the appropriate outlet plug with energy provided from the car’s battery. This invention allows the battery to provide more energy through the outlet while a control device for the battery keeps the state of charge above a certain level until the car reaches a destination. Further methods of improving vehicle efficiency through the use of alternative energy generation systems are also protected by U.S. Patent No. 8757300, issued under the title Ram Air Generator for an Automobile. Ram air generators are used as auxiliary systems for emergency power in aircraft, but this invention applies that ram force energy to automobile engine systems. This ram air generator is designed to improve efficiency so that vehicles require less gasoline, ethanol or other fuels that have a high cost or cause environmental damage.
We’ll finish today’s look at Toyota’s recently patented technologies today with an exploration into a couple of patents which offer improved methods of navigation to drivers. A technology for determining the exact distance between two cars is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8760632, entitled Distance Measuring Apparatus and Distance Measuring Method. This patent protects a device and method for informing a driver whether he or she is a safe distance from other cars, even during nighttime when human visibility is low. Interestingly, this patent received two consecutive non-final rejections, in February and June of 2013, without receiving a final rejection; in remarks from the applicant made in May of that year, the applicant argues that an improper set of claims was examined and respectfully requested that the first non-final rejection be withdrawn.
Finally, we wanted to share with our readers an intriguing learning mechanism for driving support systems which is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8753213, titled Driving Support System and Driving Support Managing Device. This patent protects a driving support system with a travel history database and other information about the vehicle’s operation which can be analyzed to determine the skill of the driver. This driving support system also incorporates information about the road environment itself, which may exacerbate the need for personal driving support.