(CNN) Ford has some interesting ideas about what self-driving cars could do in the near future. In addition to relieving us of the tedium of commuting, the company envisions cars that can repossess themselves.
According to a document recently published on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, Ford said it is considering a system that would allow a car to leave you on its own if you stop paying your monthly car payments.
But do not worry. The patent has not yet been approved. And Ford insists it’s just a thought.
“We have no plans to deploy this,” Ford said in a statement, noting that the company was granted 1,342 patents last year — not just pending, but actually granted. That is an average of 3.7 patents per day.
Companies apply for patents to prevent ideas from being used by others, whether or not they use the intellectual property themselves, explains patent attorney Michael Messinger, a partner in the Washington, DC, firm of Vorys. These processes can take a long time, Messinger said, with a lot of back and forth.
But perhaps some parts of Ford’s 14-page filing, full of ideas to get people to pay, are more patentable than others.
Before we get to the point where the car would just drive itself away, delinquent payers would fall victim to a laundry list of annoyances. First, bullying messages on owners’ smartphones and even on in-car screens. At the very least, these messages require an acknowledgment of receipt or, even better, payment on the spot.
If the owner continues to ignore these messages, the vehicle would, in the words of Ford’s patent application, “initiate the execution of a multi-step repossession procedure.”
Step one involves the owner paying in other ways. Functions such as the air conditioning, cruise control or the radio may stop working. (Some of that is already possible in many vehicles.)
If that doesn’t work, the vehicle can become proactively annoying. The stereo can be programmed to “emit an incessant and obnoxious sound every time the owner is in the vehicle,” according to the patent.
There would be only one way to turn off the sound, and of course that would involve “…contacting the lending institution to address the delinquent payments.”
Failing that, the car would render itself useless by, to begin with, refusing to open the doors. This is where it gets really complicated.
A borrower may have to drive to work to earn the money to pay back the loan. The car could be limited to only being taken to work and perhaps to run errands or take the kids to school. That is it. And all the while, the driver can’t listen to the stereo, may not have air conditioning, and may be exposed to that irritating, unstoppable noise.
Then there is the question of what to do if there is a medical emergency. In a situation like this, according to Ford’s filing, the car could be able to drive itself to the nearest emergency room or even coordinate with emergency medical personnel to meet at a location. The car would then go back to locking out the owner.
Only in the most extreme case of non-payment would the car receive a wireless order to leave its owner. In that case, if the car is not capable of fully self-driving in traffic, it can move itself to a place where a tow truck can easily pick it up, such as the edge of a street.
However, sometimes borrowers who are in arrears will take the step of locking their car in a garage or putting it somewhere where it is impossible to just drive away. In the end, an old-fashioned person who takes the car back may be the only solution.
So while Ford’s idea for a self-righteous car may never actually get a patent, some of the ideas included in the patent — a car that makes horrible noises if you don’t pay, for example, or that takes you to just one or two places — those could well be patentable, Messinger said.
It may not have been your idea of the “car of the future”, but if you don’t pay, it could be.
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