Ford Files Self-Driving Car Patent To Abandon Deadbeat Drivers For Missing Payments

Side shot of a Ford autonomous test vehicle driving down a road.
Ford is attempting to patent a computer system that would lock delinquent drivers out of their vehicles if late payments are not submitted "within a reasonable period of time." Additionally, the patent application describes next steps, including a partially autonomous vehicle driving itself to a repossession lot or some other location that would make it easier for lenders to take back a vehicle.

Today's cars are brimming with computerized components. Some of these are geared towards entertainment and convenience, such as Apple Car Play and Android Auto, on-board navigation systems, and adaptive cruise control. Others take aim at safety, like blind spot alerts and partial autonomy, including pre-collision braking. In the future, computerized hardware could be used in ways that help the lender, not the driver.

As described in Ford's patent, a lender could send a default payment notice to the car's owner, followed by an intent to initiate repossession proceedings after a set amount of time. If it gets to that point, it can be tricky to repossess a car.

"Typically, the owner is uncooperative at this time and may attempt to impede the repossession operation. In some cases, this can lead to confrontation. It is therefore desirable to provide a solution to address this issue," Ford explains.

Ford patent illustration.
Source: USPTO via Ford

The patent goes on to describe a series of steps that are first intended to annoy the driver, such as remotely disabling certain functions such as the radio and air conditioner. Failing that, a lender could place a vehicle in a lockout condition, which the patent says, "may be momentarily lifted in case of an emergency situation." It's not clear how exactly that would work, only that a driver would still be able to drive to a hospital.

Ford's patent also describes an option that would lock drivers out of their vehicles only during weekends, so that they could still drive to work and "avoid hampering the owner's ability to make payments towards the vehicle." A lender could also erect a geofence to limit where an owner can travel.

The final step would be automated repossession, for cars that support such a function.

"In some other cases, the vehicle can be an autonomous vehicle and the repossession system computer may cooperate with the vehicle computer to autonomously move the vehicle from the premises of the owner to a location such as, for example, the premises of the repossession agency, the premises of the lending institution, an impound pound, or any other pre-designated location," Ford states in its patent.

Part of what's interesting about this is that Ford abandoned its pursuit of developing full self-driving cars (Level 4, or L4) through its Argo AI investment last year. However, it's still working to achieve Level 3 (or L3) capabilities, which still allows the car to drive itself but needs the driver to remain attentive enough to take control.

You can check out Ford's patent (PDF) for the full details.