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Autonomous Trailer Hitching? It Might Come Sooner Than You Think

Trailer hitching is a pain, but a new patent reveals that autonomous vehicles might soon make it a thing of the past.

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A newly discovered patent might mean that autonomous trailer hitching is just around the corner.

Cars can do a lot of things by themselves these days. They can parallel park, then can stay between two lines on a highway, and they can even stop themselves before they crash into somebody. Tesla says that their cars will even be able to completely drive themselves and do everything that a human can do within the next year or so.

We don’t necessarily believe them, but it’s an interesting thought.

Now we’ve got a new patent from Continental Automotive Systems for an autonomous trailer-hitching system, taking one of the few remaining driving tasks out of the hands of people and giving it to a silicon brain.

Motor1 dug up this patent from the automotive parts supplier. Continental is a big company that supplies parts to pretty much every major carmaker--mostly brakes and electrical systems. They have research centers all over the globe, and one of them must be working on autonomous trailering technology.

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The system described in the patent is pretty simple. There’s a transponder in both the trailer coupler and the hitch ball that both communicate with the car’s existing driverless software. They then tell the car whether to turn right or left until the two meets.

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This sounds like a ludicrously simple idea, it begs the question of why nobody has thought of it before. After all, if a Roomba can dock itself, surely we can do the same with a car?

Well, it all comes down to precision. Trailering involves getting a 2-inch ball into a hole roughly the same size over a distance of several feet. While a Roomba can get it wrong and still mostly make contact with its electronic charging pads, getting it wrong in a pickup involves a busted hitch or even a punctured bumper.

We still don’t have any information as to the status of this patent, if Continental is working on a prototype, or if they’ve got any carmakers lining up to purchase the technology. Still, the patent is there, and that means we might yet see a pickup hitch itself in the coming years.

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