Controversial Ford Patent Aims to Develop Autonomous Police Vehicles
Ford has been a leading provider of police cars in the US for almost 50 years. From the Ford Torino (1963-1976) to the Ford Police Interceptor Utility (2013-present), the automaker is trusted with making law enforcement vehicles faster, more efficient and reliable.
But with the autonomous era upon us, the car manufacturer must also make police cars smarter.
A recent filing at the US Patent and Trademark Office (Patent Application: 2018001886) shows exactly how Ford plans to incorporate driverless systems with police vehicles. According to the details of the patent, future city residents may have to watch out for autonomous police cars patrolling neighborhoods and busy streets.
Automating Police Operations
Ford's patent develops both autonomous vehicles used for patrolling and AI-powered systems that use cameras and monitoring devices to detect the actions of lawbreakers.
In an example provided in the document, a driverless police car sends a message to a semi-driverless vehicle that is traveling over the speed limit, verifying if it is in autonomous or manual driving mode. After the action is properly assessed, the self-driving police unit races to the target vehicle and issues a ticket.
"In practice, Ford's car would establish a direct wireless connection with a speeding car and then send a message to its dashboard indicating that it's going too fast and has been spotted. The vehicle would then reply to Ford's police car informing it of if it was in autonomous mode or being driven by a human," said Vaughn Highfield from Alphr.
To clarify, the self-driving police car isn't manually ‘planted' behind bushes and road signs. A robust mapping system allows the vehicle to find its own sneaky locations for catching criminals. This is where the system becomes somewhat controversial.
Ford could market such systems to local cities, with money-making incentives. In the US, states collect millions of dollars in ticketing fees every year (for instance, New Jersey collected a whopping $405 million from tickets in 2015 alone). State officials could improve the effectiveness of such programs, by deploying Ford's autonomous policing solution.
Human Operators Required
The patent aims to remove the most dangerous aspects of patrolling, which includes navigating around unsafe locations at night, catching up to delinquent drivers and manually issuing tickets. With interaction limited to a robotic vehicle, the risk of confrontations is greatly reduced. However, in the back end, human operators are still needed to oversee and manage autonomous police fleets, via remote control stations scattered around the city.
"While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws, a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time. When a vehicle is under the control of a human driver there is a possibility of violation of traffic laws. Thus, there will still be a need to police traffic," explained the author of the patent.
Ford clarified in the filing that its driverless police vehicles are suitable for standalone operations (without a human) and during peak periods (to supplement patrolling capabilities of the task force).
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