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Ford Patents a Drone You Can Launch from Your Car

BY Isabella Lee
17 October 2019

It’s an annoying scenario many of us are familiar with—you’ve parked and left your car in a large lot and upon your return can’t remember what aisle you parked on, so you press the panic button on your key remote and follow the sound, creating somewhat of a spectacle and disturbance to those around you. Well, imagine that scenario a bit differently if you own a Ford.
Ford has patented a drone you can launch from your car. Based on the patent, you could remotely deploy it from the trunk of your car where it will signal with sound or flashing light, allowing you to easily locate your vehicle. Pretty neat right?

But that’s actually not the most important ramification of Ford’s drone patent. Ford envisions this new drone technology will be used to help locate stranded vehicles and vehicles/passengers requiring emergency services.

ford research drone

Ford’s customizable drone development platform. Source: Ford 

So let’s picture a more severe scenario, in which debris causes a vehicle to drive off the road and crash into a ditch where it will be difficult to spot by emergency responders. Ford’s patented drone deployment system can release a drone from the vehicle in a number of modes including panic mode, security mode, static view mode, monitoring mode, or fly mode. The drone will draw attention to the vehicle, by shining a light, turning on a siren, or emitting another perceptible alert, making the vehicle easier to spot by emergency responders.

How Ford’s Deployable Drone System Will Work

The drone deploys from the host vehicle when it receives an alert signal generated by the owner of the host vehicle or by an emergency service provider.

Ford Drone Patent

The owner generates the signal with his cellphone, computer, laptop, or in-vehicle infotainment system/touch-screen. If the signal is not generated by the vehicle owner, then emergency service providers can generate the signal through a remote server. The drone deployment system can be programmed to only permit certain modes of operation depending on where the signal was generated from (such as limiting video/photo access if the signal is generated remotely).

Once the drone receives the signal to deploy, the vehicle is triggered to open a door or trunk for the drone to exit out of. Ford envisions that there will be a number of in-vehicle locks that keep the drone in place inside the vehicle when not in use.

Ford’s Drone Offers Multiple Emergency Alert Modes

As mentioned above, Ford’s drone system will offer a number of modes including panic mode, security mode, static view mode, monitoring mode, or fly mode. Here’s what you could expect from each mode:

  • Panic mode – the drone may hover over the vehicle shining a light onto the host vehicle and its surrounding area and also emit an audible alert through a speaker
  • Security mode – the drone may hover over the vehicle shining a light onto the host vehicle and its surrounding area
  • Static view mode – the drone may hover over the vehicle with the camera turned on to capture images of the host vehicle and its surrounding area
  • Monitoring mode – the drone may hover over the vehicle with the camera turned on and pointed toward an object of interest and broadcast that video to nearby devices
  • Fly mode – the drone may be instructed to fly to a particular location or follow the vehicle

Within each mode, signals direct the drone to perform a number of operations. The owner can program the drone to associate certain operations with certain modes. Some examples of operations the drone could perform include transmitting GPS signal, streaming live video, emitting a siren, and shining a light.

Who Will Be Allowed to Use Ford’s Drone-Deploying Cars?

Although the patent illustration shows a Ford Fusion, the technology could be applied to all types of vehicles. The patent states the drone could be deployed from any passenger or commercial vehicle, even autonomous (driverless) vehicles. Other vehicle makes besides Ford may be able to have access to the technology based on statements in the patent about the operating system working with any number of computer operating systems from the Ford Sync application to the Linux Operating System, to the QNX Car Platform.

So when will we see Ford’s drone system in real life? It’s bound to be a while considering the regulatory environment surrounding drones. In the U.S. operating a drone from a moving vehicle requires a waiver from the FAA. Additionally operating a drone requires a certification from the FAA, so drivers who plan to deploy a drone from their vehicle will need not only a driver’s license but a drone license as well.

However, if there’s any auto company that can make this a reality, it’s Ford. Ford is the only automaker on the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee and has been conducting drone research for years. They’ve even proposed solutions for remote ID in a whitepaper. Drones are also already part of Ford’s regular operations. Since 2018, Ford has been using drones to safely and efficiently inspect high-rise gantries, pipework, and roof areas at the company’s engine plants.

It might seem strange to think that a car company is helping to lay the groundwork for drones, but we believe there is so much potential to explore here.

—Ford Motor Company

Let us know your thoughts on Ford’s visionary drone system patent in this thread on our community forum.

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