How's it going with the car payments? Well? I hope so, because Ford just filed a patent that could put a lot of pressure on those who don't pay on time. The patent document, entitled "Systems and Methods to Repossess a Vehicle" (I link it here) had been in the works for a while, and was officially released on February 23rd.
What is it about?
The patent describes several methods of, shall we say, deterrence. The rather disturbing document illustrates a system capable of disabling specific functions of vehicles equipped with a data connection, including engine and air conditioning.
In practice, this system could be used to prevent the owner from using the vehicle in the event of non-payment or to allow the vehicle to be recovered by a tow truck.
If we pair with futures autonomous or semi-autonomous driving capability, the patent is creepy: the system could autonomously move the vehicle from one point to another, even if the owner does not agree.
The car that forecloses itself
Given that the filing of a patent does not necessarily mean that the system will actually be implemented (it may just be a move to protect the idea) this is sobering.
Ford doesn't add legal "backup papers" to support his idea, but he does provide several details about the system he envisioned. There's even a "foreclosure computer," a sort of black box that you can install on future cars to make the system work smoothly. I quote directly from the patent.
In some cases, the vehicle may be semi-autonomous and the garnishment system may cooperate with the semi-autonomous vehicle's computer to autonomously move the vehicle from a first point to a second point more convenient for a tow truck. […] In other cases, the vehicle may be autonomous, and the repossession system may cooperate with the vehicle's computer to autonomously move the vehicle from the owner's location to a location such as, for example, the location of the foreclosure agency, the credit institution or any other predetermined location.
From patent to reality
Now it's the advertiser speaking to you. And he tells you that one of the principles that inspire purchasing choices, even in the times of the "subscription economy", is the sense of ownership.
I don't know how much purchases can benefit from the perception that at the first difficulty (or second, it matters relatively) a car can go back on its own to the company that sold it to us. Because of this we still don't know if we will ever see this system on the roads, in a world that could choose other forms of transportation. And it should also be emphasized that Ford is the first company to introduce the theme.
On the horizon, a four-wheeled "subprime crisis"? Any bigwigs imagine that large swathes of the population will have trouble making ends meet? Or, conversely, do you realize that too many vehicles have been sold with "cheerful" payment formulas? Of course I have no idea.
A few more details
The patent describes, as mentioned, the progressive phases of "foreclosure 2.0": cars could begin to lose functionality gradually, providing notices to the "owner" to request payment. Warnings to be ignored "at your own risk".
Initially the lost functions would be only minor inconveniences. Cruise control, automatic window and seat controls, some infotainment system components such as radio and GPS.
In later stages, the owner may also lose access to important elements such as climate control and remote opening. Last stage? The blocking of the vehicle and autonomous control, which the car would use to drive itself into the arms of the foreclosure.
Something in between Black Mirror and a pay-TV subscription. Brocker, how come you haven't thought of that?
There is nothing worse than the image of a car that stops in the middle of the road because the owner hasn't paid the last installment of the loan: the use of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and autonomous driving can have complex ethical and legal implications.
We are only at the beginning of a new era of the automotive industry and at a guess we will have to face many delicate problems in the coming years.