- Ford Global Technologies recently applied for a patent for an autonomous police car.
- The autonomous vehicle (AV) would detect when another vehicle violates a road law and could take actions either on its own or along with a human police officer.
- The patent application lists several possible actions the AV could perform, such as remotely issuing a ticket or even pursuing the offending vehicle.
Ford's patent request might suggest the company is jumping the gun, considering that general public AV use hasn't quite moved past the testing stage yet. But patents can take a while to go through, and many patents applied for never end up in a product being made. Securing a patent early can help if a company believes others soon might be vying to release a product in the same space.
There is great potential for a connected and autonomous police car, considering that it could communicate with such existing technology as speed cameras and light pole-mounted traffic sensors. The patent application presents a number of scenarios in which an autonomous police vehicle eventually could be used, from simple remote ticket distribution to more complicated actions such as directly communicating a message to another connected car it is pursuing, to which the violating vehicle could respond with its own message.
Although U.S. automakers have been criticized for lagging foreign automakers in innovations for the past few decades — especially during the industry bailouts 10 years ago — Ford has been loud about its recent efforts in the emerging field of vehicle connectivity. Earlier this month, Ford CEO Jim Hackett announced a partnership to develop an open, cloud-based mobility system to allow numerous types of vehicles to share information. It's also acquiring two software firms and reorganizing its mobility business, which heavily focuses on urban transportation, such as shuttles.
The changes could help Ford overcome U.S. automakers' reputation and become an innovation leader. It could also help to transform the ways people move around in cities. On the autonomous police car front, though, much still needs to be hashed out not just in terms of technology, but also in terms of governance and enforcement in each municipality that might purchase this type of vehicle.