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Ford Patents Trunk Drone: Everything We Know (So Far)

The trunk drone is about as bizarre as you'd think, so get all the info you need on Ford's new patented technology.

Car innovation has come a long way. It's easy to forget that since new cars now come fully loaded and it's easy to upgrade to the latest and greatest technologies. Ford Motor Company has paved many paths in the world of automotive innovation. Most significantly, in 1913 when they developed the moving assembly line. Instead of taking 14 hours to assemble, Ford was able to build a Model T car in 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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Today, Ford employs the latest driving tech, like lane-keeping systems, pre-collision assist and reverse brake assist. They're also exploring self-driving cars which are expected to be released in 2021. Where things get crazy futuristic is Ford's technology patents, in particular, a recently published patent that unveiled a drone that files out of the trunk of a car. Here's what we know so far and what could be in store in the future.

10 The Patent

The patent characterizes the new technology as a "vehicle-integrated drone". The scope of the patent includes the ability to deploy a drone from a car, a vehicle system that acts as a processor and storer of information, and the ability for the drone and system to communicate with a remote server.

Although the patent was published on October 10, 2019, it was originally filed on July 7, 2016. This is around the time when drones were a trending topic; peaking in late 2015 and again in 2016. Ford isn't the first company to think about incorporating drones into its automotive offering. Mercedes Benz partnered with Matternet to support drone deliveries in Switzerland. Land Rover came up with the idea of a “rescue” drone in 2017.

9 Concept

Ford Drone

The vehicle-integrated drone concept came out of a thought experiment by Ford on a new way to provide support during traffic impediments. Specifically for when a car breaks down and the driver needs to move the vehicle to the side of the road or another area entirely. The idea is that the drone makes it easier for emergency and support personnel to find and support the driver.

The drone itself is a quadcopter, which means it has four propeller blades that are connected to four separate arms extending away from the body of the drone.

8 Safety

Safety is an integral part of automotive manufacturing and thus any technology involved will face the same immense scrutiny.  Only in the last few years has there been significant discussion around the area of drone safety and regulation. As technology has improved and more advanced versions are made available to citizens, drones can reach new heights and distances and in some cases, impeding airlines, scaring large groups of people and scaling business towers.

In Ford's case, with the drone technology being able to drive itself to some degree and that it's flying around human head height, Ford will likely face all-new hurtles in the area of safety, which they've been actively working through.

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7 Design

Ford's drone is designed to be controlled by the person in the car. In their patent, it suggests that a touch-sensitive display screen will be used to input and suggest prompts for the user, alternatively, it could be done through the car's existing infotainment system.

Patent images show the drone flying out of the trunk of the vehicle. That said, the patent doesn't limit this and leaves open opportunities for other designs, say a secret compartment. Although the patent showcases the drone and a sedan, it's noted that this technology could be incorporated in taxis, buses and trucks and autonomous cars in the future.

6 Use Case

If you've ever been in an accident, you know how terrifying it can be. Imagine while on the highway the car next to you, without any notice, merges into your car, which causes you to immediately lose control and spin out. When the dust settles, you realize you're past the shoulder lane and in the trees and deep brush.  You feel okay but you're not sure. Instead of getting out and risk hurting yourself, you push a button on your car's touch screen and activate your emergency drone. In minutes, a drone pops out of your trunk and hovers around your car.  You can hear the emergency crews on the way, and thanks to your drone's bright lights, movement and sounds, they know exactly where to find you.

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5 Future

Ford has been very public about its interest in unmanned aircraft systems. In their office in Palo Alto California, they even have a specific UAV Systems group.  They're currently the only automotive maker involved in the Federal Aviation Administration AA’s Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which is a sign they're deeply invested in the potential of drone applications in the future.

For this particular patent, it's clear that they hope it has more uses than simply an emergency drone. It's noted that a deployable drone could also be programmed to operate in different modes based on the circumstances, including security mode, panic mode, static view monitoring mode, and a fly mode.

4 Drone Technology

Drone technology has come a long way, just like automotive tech. Today drones are capable of truly amazing feats. DJI Spark has a drone model that can fly up to 1.24 miles. There are also drone leagues that race for the title of Guinness World Record for faster drone, flying at a top speed of 179.6 mph. With the rising accessibility of drones, their use is expanding across industries, including military,  humanitarian and disaster relief, animal conservation, agriculture, weather forecasting mining and realty to name a few.

For those who've driven a drone and know it's not the easiest thing in the world to control, reset assured, Ford's drone would be capable of receiving commands and acting on them.

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3 Flying Cars

The future of flying cars is not unfathomable at this point. Although it's not apparent if Ford is working on this area now. What many people don't know is that back when Henry Ford was running the show, he unveiled a flying car concept for personal transportation. Although it never took off the ground commercially, the work, the UAV team, is doing now will inevitably support an air transport future.

Other companies currently working on flying cars specifically are AeorMobile, KittyHawk, as well as Porsche and Boeing who teamed up to collaborate.

2 Fiction

Flying cars and drones have been in the spotlight of many sci-fi futuristic movies and TV shows, including Angel Has Fallen, Star Trek and Black Mirror. Most similar to patent by Ford is in the movie BladeRunner 2049The main character named K is an LAPD officer who drives around in a flying car, which so happens to be equipped with a detachable drone.  Using voice control, he is able to command the drone to scout the area around his car and was even survey underground.

1 Other Ford Patents

Ford is serious about technology and innovating. In 2018 alone, they received 2,123 patents.  Not impressed? Ford doesn't just beat every other automotive company, they beat them all by long-shot. Ford has the most US patents out of both Google and Amazon. Only second to Apple, whom they're trailing by 37 patents.

If you take a look at their portfolio, there's a lot of different types of patented tech, including things you'd expect, like updates to car hoods, windshield wipers, and brake systems. Not for the faint at heart or a Mustang GT driver, Ford has also patented an Exhaust silencer. Other interesting patents include a flexible motor vehicle work surface for laptops and tablets, a deployable and retractable writing surface, as well as vehicle door handle having ice handling, which is perfect timing for the Winter.

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office

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