A new patent allows Ford to make cars that act when the owner fails to pay by playing scary sounds – or even taking themselves back to the dealer
28 February 2023
Ford has been granted a patent for a system that allows a car to recover itself if its owner fails to keep up with payments. The company envisions the car driving itself back to the showroom — or to a scrapyard if the car’s value is low. But a security expert warned that the proposed system could be used to steal cars remotely.
The patent, which was filed in 2021 but was only granted last week, describes how the system kicks in when the car owner fails to respond to messages informing them that they have fallen behind on payments. At that point, a series of steps will first be used to make the car difficult to drive, then impossible. Finally, as a last resort, the car returns itself to the showroom.
The system can start by disabling features such as GPS navigation, the music system or the air conditioning, to create what the patent describes as a “certain level of discomfort” for the owner . If it doesn’t work, the patents suggest the car could make an “incessant and unpleasant sound”, like a chime or beep, every time the owner gets inside.
The next development is to limit access to the car on certain days or at certain times, which cannot be used for leisure at the weekend, but allows the owner to continue working and therefore not harm their ability to make car payments. The patent also suggests the use of GPS to “geofence” in some areas where the vehicle cannot be used.
If all else fails, then the car can be taught to drive itself to a location where a waiting tow-truck can pick it up, or even drive itself to a recovery storage location. If the car’s mileage is high and its condition is poor, it can instead be taught to drive itself straight to a scrapyard to be recycled.
Such a system, of course, requires that the car be fully autonomous, which is a persistent but elusive goal for car manufacturers: it is no more possible to buy a true self-driving car today than in 15 years ago. Ford itself recently announced that it has stopped its goal of developing fully self-driving technology, at a cost of $2.7 billion.
Ford did not respond to a request for comment on the newly granted patent, but security expert Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey, UK, said there are security risks in such a system.
“It’s a brave car manufacturer to build this into their car as standard,” he said. “I can imagine a car thief not only finding an unauthorized way into the system, but also socially engineering ‘authorized’ users to give them access.”
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