The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. The automotive industry is advancing autonomous vehicle (AV) sensor cleaning technologies such as ultrasonic, compressed air, machine learning, laser, plasma, nanotechnology-based, and self-cleaning coatings to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.7 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in automotive: AV sensor cleaning. Buy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

300+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over one million patents, there are 300+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, integrated multi-motor drivetrains, electric power steering (EPS), and post-collision handling are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Variable compression engines, V2V distance monitoring, and turbocharger shaft bearings are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among the maturing innovation areas are kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and plasma-jet ignition, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the automotive industry

AV sensor cleaning is a key innovation area in automotive

AV sensor cleaning involves the use of cleaning systems and devices to clean sensors on autonomous vehicles, such as LiDAR and front cameras. These cleaning systems are designed to ensure that sensors are free of contaminants that can obstruct their function, optimize sensor cleaning fluid usage, and estimate the amount of washer fluid to be consumed in a reservoir of a vehicle.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of AV sensor cleaning.

Key players in AV sensor cleaning – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to AV sensor cleaning

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Faurecia 1 Unlock Company Profile
Koito Manufacturing 6 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 10 Unlock Company Profile
Baidu 9 Unlock Company Profile
Alphabet 2 Unlock Company Profile
Zhejiang Geely 1 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 9 Unlock Company Profile
General Motors 7 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 9 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 14 Unlock Company Profile
Uber Technologies 2 Unlock Company Profile
NextEV, U.S. 1 Unlock Company Profile
Nio 26 Unlock Company Profile
Beijing TuSimple Future Technology 1 Unlock Company Profile
Weilai 1 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Nio, one of the leading patent filers in AV sensor cleaning, has filed a patent recently that focuses on an autonomous vehicle sensor cleaning system using ultrasonic waves. The system, which can operate continuously or triggered, removes dirt and debris from sensors, making autonomous vehicles safer and more reliable. Ford Motor and Toyota Motor are some of the other key patent filers in AV sensor cleaning.

In terms of application diversity, Nio leads the pack, while NextEV, U.S and Weilai stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, Nio held the top position, followed by Koito and Ford Motor.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the automotive industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Automotive

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.