Ford’s new patent suggests self-driving cars are reclaiming themselves: NPR

A diagram included in a new Ford patent envisions various futuristic ways to recover a vehicle.

US Patent and Trademark Office

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US Patent and Trademark Office

A diagram included in a new Ford patent envisions various futuristic ways to recover a vehicle.

US Patent and Trademark Office

Think about it in the near future, and you bought a new car with self-driving mode. But hard times hit and you fall behind on loan payments – then, one day you find your car driving itself away from the recovery lot.

That’s the vision of a new Ford patent published last month that describes a variety of futuristic ways Ford’s vehicle system could be controlled by a financial institution to help recover in a car.

The company told NPR that the company has no intention of implementing the patent ideas, which is one of hundreds of pending Ford patents published this year by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

“We don’t have any plans to deploy it,” said Wes Sherwood, a Ford spokesman. “We submit patents on new inventions as a normal course of business but they are not necessarily indicative of new business or product plans.”

As recovery tactics have changed over time with the advent of social media and GPS technology, Ford’s patent shows how lenders can use smart car features to repossess cars from delinquent borrowers. This was previously reported by the Detroit Free Press.

Of the innovations described in the patent, which is titled “Systems and Methods to Repossess a Vehicle,” perhaps the most remarkable is about self-driving cars.

A financial institution or recovery agency can “cooperate with the vehicle’s computer to autonomously move the vehicle from the owner’s premises to a location such as, for example, the premises of the recovery agency” or “the place of lending institution,” the patent states. The process can be fully automated.

The car could also call the police, the patent suggests — or, if the lender determines the car isn’t worth the cost of repossession, the self-driving car could drive itself to a junkyard.

Semi-autonomous vehicles that aren’t up to the challenge of driving long distances could move themselves over short distances — from private property (“a garage or a driveway, for example,” the patent suggests ) to a nearby place “which is easier for a tow truck.”

Among the various ideas described in the patent is a gradual disabling of features in a smart car. Lenders may start by turning off “optional” car features – such as cruise control or the media player – in an effort to cause “a certain degree of discomfort” to the car driver.

If the owner continues to pay, the lender may proceed to disable the air conditioner, or use the audio system to play “an incessant and unpleasant sound every time the owner is in the car. ”

As a last resort, a lender can disable “the engine, the brakes, the accelerator, the steering wheel, the doors, and the lights of the vehicle,” the patent suggests, or simply lock the doors.

Other proposed features include limiting the geographic area where a car can be operated and the flashing of messages from a lender on a car’s screen.

Like many large corporations, Ford actively applies for patents in large volumes. The repossession patent is one of 13 Ford patents published on February 23 alone, and one of more than 350 published this year so far, according to a review of US patent records.

Last year, the company was granted 1,342 patents that “cover a lot of ideas,” Sherwood said.

The company’s other recent patents cover a wide range of applications: powertrain operations, speech recognition, autonomous parking, redesign of tailgate attachments and fuel containers.

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