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Ford Patenting a Drone You Can Deploy from Your Car's Trunk

Mihir Maddireddy
Photo credit: Ford

From Car and Driver

  • Ford has patented a drone that drivers can deploy from their vehicles. It can follow the vehicle and perform security and emergency aid functions.
  • The drone is a quadcopter design that is customizable and programmable with an onboard computer.
  • In an article on its drone research, Ford says, "As drone adoption accelerates, we think many of our customers will want to use these devices as part of their lifestyle."

As drones become more commonplace—the FAA says there will be 4.3 million of them in the hands of hobbyists by 2020— it’s no surprise that automakers have taken an interest. Ford has been proclaiming its interest in new approaches to "mobility," and one of those is a patent for a programmable drone, as shown in the sketch above, that drivers can deploy from a vehicle.

Ford's illustration in the patent, dated October 10 and filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, shows a quadcopter-style device being deployed from a vehicle. The drone can be programmed to follow the vehicle as it drives down the road or signal the vehicle's location to emergency services if it gets stranded. According to the patent description, the drone can be charged and stored in the trunk of the vehicle between uses.

Despite the patent illustrations showing what appears to be the sketch of a Ford Fusion, Ford says that the patent can be applied to all types of vehicles, from trucks to sedans to SUVs and crossovers.

Photo credit: Ford



The drone's quadcopter design means that it has four propeller blades that are connected to four separate arms extending away from the body of the drone. Ford hasn't stated if it will will produce the flying machine in house or if an outside company would work with them to develop the craft.

The drone has a variety of uses, the majority of which are safety related. Ford says that the drone can be used in emergency situations, such as in a car crash to help first responders locate the vehicle. The drone would be deployed and shine a light on the location of the disabled vehicle as well as play a siren and flash lights to draw attention to the spot of the accident. The drone could also communicate with first responders, stream footage of the accident, and send coordinates and directions to the closest response unit.

Other potential functions include a follow mode, one where it takes video of the vehicle, and a security mode in which the drone patrols around the vehicle. There is also a possibility for manual control of the drone, and the patent calls for a dedicated processing system and onboard computer, while drone information could be viewed on the vehicle's infotainment screen. All of this would potentially allow a great deal of customization and personalization.

This isn't the first time a mass-market vehicle has been paired with a drone. In 2017, Land Rover unveiled a one-off Discovery that was a mobile drone dock, part of a collaboration with the Austrian Red Cross called Project Hero. The Discovery's roof-mounted platform allows a search and rescue drone to take off and land while the vehicle was in motion, and the SUV became a communications hub. Land Rover hasn't announced plans to put this sort of technology into production.

As for Ford, it hasn't announced any reveal date for a drone option in its new models, either, but it did publish an article about its drone research in which it stated, "As drone adoption accelerates, we think many of our customers will want to use these devices as part of their lifestyle, whether to pursue hobbies or even as a tool for their business — no different than how they use an F-150 or Transit on a job site."

Imagine using the drone while off-roading, perhaps in the upcoming Bronco—something Ford doesn't state anywhere, but the idea is intriguing. It could film rock-crawling and desert-running shenanigans, scout the trail ahead, and serve as a marker for your location. This feature would be especially useful in remote locations where it would be difficult to get help in an emergency.

When it comes to putting cars and drones together, the possibilities are endless. We’re excited to see this patent become reality in the near future and what Ford, and other companies, do with this marriage of two technologies.

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