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More Apple drone patent applications spotted, with apparent attempt at secrecy

A patent application published last month suggested that an Apple drone might be in the works. Two further drone-related patent applications have come to light today – with the original filings suggesting some attempt on Apple’s part to keep the work secret.

Patent applications are a matter of public record, and there are of course people who make a habit of scouring those filed by Apple in an attempt to get an early steer on potential new products. Apple appears in this case to have attempted to hide its applications …

There are two ways the company can do this. First, in some cases it is possible to delay publication of a patent application until some time after it was made. Second, file the application outside the US.

As an American company, Apple usually applies to the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), so this is where most people go hunting for clues. Patent applications made in other countries are less likely to be spotted. Patently Apple notes that the Cupertino company initially filed both these Apple drone patent applications in Singapore rather than the US.

Apple originally filed in Singapore under number 10202004252X back in May 2020 to keep the project secret […] A second Drone patent application was […] also originally filed in Singapore under number 10202002204W.

However, both have now also been filed in the US. The first relates to methods of pairing and unpairing drones to controllers. It is, of course, written in the usual dense patentese, but appears to be describing a method of control of a drone being handed from one controller to another, potentially while in flight.

Apparatuses, systems, and methods for pairing/unpairing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to/from UAV controllers (UACs). A UAV and/or a UAC may initiate, based on a triggering condition, a paring/unpairing of the UAV to/from a host UAC and receive, from a network, a configuration update that may confirm the paring/unpairing of the UAV to/from the host UAC. The triggering condition may include at least one of the UAV moving from a location designated as controlled by the host UAC, the UAV moving into a location in which the host UAC is restricted from controlling the host UAV, and/or the host UAC losing signaling capabilities. The configuration update may include at least one of a cause code, an identifier associated with the UAV, an identifier associated with the host UAC, an identifier associated with an unmanned aerial system (UAS).

The second relates to distant control of a drone using a cellular network.

Apparatuses, systems, and methods for tracking and/or controlling unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as tracking UAV controllers (UACs) within a cellular network. A UAV/UAC may provide a cellular network with tracking information such as speed, orientation, altitude, C2 communication quality, C2 communication mode change request, measurement report, RRC status, cell ID, TAC ID, current location of the UAV, and destination of the UAV. The network may forward this information to an unmanned aerial system (UAS) traffic management system (UTM). The UTM may determine, based in part on the tracking information, whether to transfer control of the UAV from the UAC to the UTM. In some embodiments, the UAV/UAC may trigger the UTM to transfer control of the UAV form the UAC to the UTM.

We of course add our usual disclaimer here: Apple patents a great many things that never make it to market. The company famously says “no” a thousand times for every occasion it says “yes.”

All the same, this would seem a fairly logical product category for Apple to at least explore, given that photography and videography are already key focus areas for iPhones and Macs.

Concept image: Patently Apple

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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