Just a few months after publishing an ambitious drone delivery patent that would combine delivery vans with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Ford Motor Co. may have upped its own ante.
As company watchdog Ford Authority noted on Monday, a patent filing the automaker (NYSE: F) made in June 2021 and quietly published earlier this month calls for “systems and methods for operating drone flights over public roadways.”
Some within the drone industry refer to the delivery method being laid out in Ford’s patent as a “drone highway,” an aerial corridor above a public road and other property that state governments can lease to drone delivery providers.
Regulatory hurdles have thus far prevented the establishment of drone highways — federal, state and local lawmakers are hesitant to bring drones into public airspace given concerns around safety and privacy. But that’s where Ford’s proposed solution might come in.
Communication among drones, people and other systems is at the core of the idea. The filing envisions drones equipped with vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication that broadcasts their current positioning and planned trajectory.
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The aircraft would fly along predetermined routes and be capable of alerting other drones, nearby vehicles and mobile devices of potential crashes, whether due to low battery life, adverse weather or some other reason. Ford even proposed making flight path data available before takeoff via a publicly available and continuously updating database.
While the proposed solution wouldn’t do anything to prevent drones crashing into the ground, it could go a long way toward preventing collisions with humans, animals or each other.
This newest filing from Ford is just one in a string of drone delivery-related patent applications. In addition to the delivery van-drone hybrid model unveiled a few months ago, the automaker has filed patents for a vehicle-mounted drone storage compartment, a drone-powered jump-start system and what is essentially a mobile drone car wash.
Still, the actual product is behind that of Workhorse Group, which in 2018 secured a patent similar to Ford’s delivery van and drone hybrid. Since then, the company has entered prototype drone production and run several pilots of its technology.
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