Ford Patents Envision Car-Drone Future

The automaker has patented numerous ways to pair UAVs with vehicles

John Yellig

January 26, 2023

2 Min Read

Ford vehicles could one day come equipped with their own drones.

Ford Motor Company has received at least 11 patents recently for pairing drones with vehicles in a sign that the carmaker expects unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to one day become useful tools for motorists. Among the patents is one that incorporates a drone into a vehicle’s moonroof and others that cover various aspects of the relationships between drones and cars, like communications and takeoffs and landings.

Besides built-in drone accessories, the company also envisions third-party drone operations, like deliveries to vehicles. A driver stuck in traffic could be willing to pay a premium to have snacks, medicine, phone chargers or even a gallon of gas delivered by drone. In this scenario, a driver orders items via a phone app or a vehicle infotainment system. 

Ford also envisions a drone behaving much like a hot dog vendor at a baseball game, offering visual advertisements to drivers in traffic jams via signs or screens showing available merchandise. The drone could also contact drivers via vehicle infotainment systems with messages like, “Bummer about the traffic. Need food?” according to the patent.

Another patent envisions a “collaborative” relationship between drone and vehicle. The possibilities of this patent are numerous. The drone could serve as a scout and relay driving conditions back to the vehicle so the driver can avoid traffic or prepare to enter a dark tunnel by turning on the headlights. 

The UAV could also be used to help a self-driving vehicle navigate or serve as a pedestrian guidance tool that directs visually impaired riders to autonomous vehicles. It could also be used to gauge wait times at a movie theater, for example, or to illuminate an unpaved road beyond the reach of an SUV’s headlights for someone driving off-road at night. 

Emergency drone use is also covered. One patent envisions a vehicle-borne drone serving as a network bridge to connect a vehicle communication system or a driver’s cell phone to emergency services when in remote areas.

Ford’s most recent patent, awarded on Jan. 19, details a drone “kill switch,” which would prevent the drone from getting too close to people or vehicles. Triggers for the kill switch would include a person’s wireless device or connected vehicles that send signals alerting the aircraft of their proximity. 
“Drones are becoming increasingly popular in performing everyday tasks,” one application states. “Drone technology is evolving and the capabilities of drones continue to increase. These capabilities include lift, navigation, travel speed, obstacle avoidance and other operational aspects.”

About the Author(s)

John Yellig

John Yellig has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing and editing for a range of publications both in print and online. His primary coverage areas over the years have included criminal justice, politics, government, finance, real estate and technology.

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