Ford Tries to Patent a Dystopian Future Where Self-Driving Cars Repo Themselves

Photo of a Ford pickup truck with blueprints covered

Imagine watching your Ford truck speed off to deliver itself to a junkyard because you missed too many car payments. A sample of the schematics that Ford included in the patent application is shown above.
picture: Shutterstock / Gizmodo

Car companies often talk about self-driving vehicles as a way toward more freedom — giving more people access to roads and giving drivers their time and attention. But at least one auto giant is considering alternative (and darker) uses for its still-elusive self-driving technology.

Ford has filed a patent for theoretical technology that would, among other things, allow its cars to repossess themselves if a driver defaults on car payments. In a future Ford version, late customers’ cars could drive themselves to the dealership (or to an impoundment yard or even a junkyard) if the owner failed to pay in time. Unfortunately, this is not a joke.

The US Patent Office published the company to request Last Thursday, February — about 1.5 years after Ford first introduced it. Titled “Systems and Methods for Vehicle Repossession,” the patent hasn’t been officially granted (yet), but it’s nonetheless an unsettling peek into an alternate universe where private companies have a greater say in our daily lives.

In the auto industry’s dystopian, proposed and patented version of reality, skipping a spouse’s car payment could set off a cycle of consequences within the car—or a “multi-step repossession procedure,” as it’s called in the document. First, the owner who is in arrears on the loan will get a delinquency notice, sent through the screen of their infotainment system. If the driver fails to respond to this notice, there will be another notice. After that, your personal Ford car will slowly turn into a copy of hell.

The company suggests various early penalties for late car owners – for example, a car that can disable its air conditioning, auto key, GPS or music system. Another idea Ford floats in the patent filing is to “activate an audio component in the vehicle…to emit a continuous, unpleasant sound every time the owner is in the vehicle.” Which seems incredibly insecure!

If the horrible noise and/or minimal functionality and convenience don’t entice the car owner to cough up money, the buyback will then progress to locking the driver out of his car. Ford notes that this “lockdown clause” can be applied varyingly — allowing people to access their cars in medical emergencies (via a sophisticated user monitoring system) or to keep going back and forth by restricting travel outside only certain areas or times. Why you may ask? Because Ford cares – getting its money’s worth. “Allowing weekday use of the vehicle avoids negatively affecting the vehicle owner’s livelihood and hinders the owner’s ability to make payments,” the company wrote.

However, if the shutdown didn’t work, Ford applied for a technology patent that would allow its cars to self-rebuy. The company proposes versions of this idea that could work with both semi-autonomous cars and fully autonomous cars. Previously, the car was traveling a short distance so that it could be easily towed away by the repos. In the latter case, the car will drive itself back to the dealership from which it was purchased, or to a nearby impoundment or junkyard – depending on the vehicles value. The company also includes safeguards against the owner’s defenses (such as locking the car in a locked garage) That would automatically notify the police.

So, just to recap, in a possible future reality, a Ford could shut you down, cut your AC, make terrible sounds, Take the same to get rid of spare parts if you miss enough payments, and call the cops on you.

This isn’t the only absurd patent Ford has filed for its cars. In its 2018 filing, the company outlined a proposal for a Autonomous police car using artificial intelligence In order to hide and catch “traffic violators” more effectively. Automotive patent Bonkers windshield film screen In preparation for a distant future where people no longer need to watch the road ahead. Also, the company has filed patents for Bring billboards inside your car and building Vehicles with detachable motorcycles.

To be fair: Ford and many companies do this kind of thing a lot. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the automaker actually plans to put any of this technology in operation. However, the car’s self-buyback proposition seems uniquely weak. And it’s clear that the company has put a lot of time, thought and detail into the 14-page application which includes diagrams and explanations of how the self-recovering vehicle’s Internet connection works – for maximum effectiveness.

“We file patents on new inventions as a normal course of business, but they are not necessarily indicative of new business or product plans,” Ford spokesperson Wes Sherwood told Gizmodo via email. The company did not respond to questions about whether any aspects of this patented technology are in development.

Notably, much of the system proposed in Ford’s latest patent application will be based on vehicles that are far more autonomous than the company currently has. Although Ford previously said it aimed to build The largest fleet of self-driving cars in the worldThe company announced that it is abandon its target for fully self-driving cars in October 2022.

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