(CNN) Ford has some interesting ideas for what self-driving cars could do soon. In addition to freeing us from the boredom of commuting, the company envisions cars that could pick themselves up.
According to a document recently posted on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, Ford said it was considering a system that would allow a car to leave you if you stop making your monthly automatic payments.
Don’t worry, though. The patent has not yet been approved. And Ford insists that’s just a thought.
“We have no plans to roll this out,” Ford said in a statement, noting that the company had been granted — not only applied for, but actually granted — 1,342 patents last year. That’s an average of 3.7 patents per day.
Companies apply for patents to protect ideas from use by others, whether or not they use the intellectual property themselves, explained patent attorney Michael Messinger, a partner in the Washington, DC office of Vorys company. These processes can take a long time, Messinger said, with a lot of back and forth.
But maybe some parts of Ford’s 14-page application, filled with ideas for getting people to pay, may be more patentable than others.
Before it got to the point where the car would simply drive away, delinquent payers would be subjected to a litany of trouble. First, harassing messages on owners’ smartphones and even on screens inside the car. These messages would require at least an acknowledgment or, even better, payment on the spot.
If the owner persists in ignoring these messages, the vehicle, in the words of Ford’s patent application, “will initiate the execution of a multi-step repossession process.”
The first step is to make the landlord pay through other means. Features such as air conditioning, cruise control or radio may stop working. (Some of this is already possible in many vehicles.)
If that doesn’t work, the vehicle could become proactively irritating. The stereo could be programmed to “emit an incessant, unpleasant sound whenever the owner is present in the vehicle,” according to the patent.
There would be only one way to turn off the noise, which of course would involve “…contacting the lending institution to settle the default”.
Otherwise, the car would render itself unusable by initially refusing to unlock its doors. This is where things really get complicated.
A borrower may need to drive to work in order to earn money to repay the loan. The car could be restricted to only allow it to be driven to work and, perhaps, to get groceries or drop the kids off at school. That’s it. And all the while, the driver won’t be able to listen to the stereo, might not have air conditioning, and might be subjected to that irritating, unstoppable noise.
Then there is the question of what to do in a medical emergency. In a situation like this, according to Ford’s app, the car might be allowed to drive to the nearest emergency room or even coordinate with emergency medical personnel for an appointment at a place. The car would then revert to locking out its owner.
Only in the most extreme non-payment scenario would the car receive a live command to leave its owner. In this case, if the car isn’t able to fully steer itself in traffic, it could simply move to a location where it would be easy for a tow truck to pick it up, such as the edge of a street.
Sometimes, however, borrowers who are late with payments will take the initiative to lock their car in a garage or put it in a place where it’s impossible to just drive away. In the end, a good old-fashioned human being taking over the car may be the only answer.
So while Ford’s idea of a self-recovering car may never 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 lets you drive to just one or two places — those might be patentable, Messinger said.
It might not have been your idea of the “car of the future”, but if you’re not paying, it might be.