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Apple’s vision for driverless cars seems to involve countdown clocks

It’s a pretty poorly kept secret that Apple is looking at the self-driving car space, but despite recent hires pointing at whole-car hardware, it’s possible that the company may be looking at a software-only kind of deal. Whatever its plans, a new patent spotted by Patently Apple gives us an interesting insight into the direction they want to take driverless technology.

The patent suggests an Apple driverless car would signpost its actions before it performs them. A right arrow would indicate an upcoming right turn, but unlike a SatNav system, a timer will count down the seconds before the manoeuvre is performed.

Related: Apple Car rumours

The big question is why. Human drivers don’t tell their passengers every move they plan to make, and even KITT from Knight Rider didn’t provide Hasselhoff with a running commentary.

Trusting the machines

I assume it’s all down to trust. While human drivers are implicitly trusted not to do anything stupid on the roads (despite ample evidence to the contrary), people still feel a bit queasy about being driven around by a series of sensors and cameras without an inherent sense of self-preservation. Signposting upcoming manoeuvres should give even the most anxious of people the peace of mind that the car’s intentions are logical and what a human would do in those circumstances.

Assuming the car isn’t about to do something completely mad, of course. In those cases, these manoeuvre indicators could give someone time to take control away from the machine to avoid disaster. 

But as usual, it’s worth pointing out that this is just a patent, and Apple is well known for filing thousands of them each year. Not all of them will ever be used. All the same, it’s reassuring that Apple is thinking about the challenges of emerging technology, rather than concentrating on tweaks for its bread and butter of iPhones and MacBooks.

Does the idea of a self-driving car countdown clock make sense to you, or would you prefer the process be hidden? Let us know what you think on Twitter @TrustedReviews.

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