Old Ford T on the road

Autonomous cars receive most information on traffic levels from an online mapping client, but in the future a lookout drone might provide alerts on traffic jams and accidents in real-time.

That’s what a new patent application from Ford suggests, which was published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) this week. In it, the automotive giant shows how a drone is able to provide real-time information on traffic that could give the driver early alerts and allow them to take another route before getting stuck in a jam.

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“The drone device is introduced to the vehicle system in order to extend the range at which the vehicle is about to obtain information on its surroundings beyond the range of any one or more sensors, visual systems and/or communications interfaces that may be onboard the vehicle,” says Ford in the patent.

The drone would also be able to pick up and deliver items to the car, possibly landing on top of the roof to deliver them. Ford also mentions that the drone could be a terrestrial model or a marine model, which suggests it also wants lookout drones for boats.

Ford drone option may never be widely available

The thought of each Ford customer getting a complimentary lookout drone does seem unlikely, although it might be possible for customers of more high-end cars to receive this option. It also is completely possible that this turns out to be nothing more than a patent, as many patents do. Ford even said in a statement, “Patent applications are intended to protect new ideas but aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.”

It is not the first time Ford has ventured into the world of drones. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016, Ford teamed up with drone maker DJI to launch a developer challenge, aimed at building a service on top of Ford’s Sync infotainment system to inspect emergency zones.

Ford is also not a slacker in the autonomous car department, it is currently testing dozens of driverless cars, which now work at night. It has also been linked to Google as a potential partner in self-driving, though new reports suggest Ford might take a stab at the market alone.

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