In perhaps the best example yet of how “smart” systems can actually hinder consumers, a new patent application from American motor conglomerate Ford is raising quite a few eyebrows.
As first reported by the motorist enthusiast website The Drive, this patent document (which you can view yourself here) is labeled “Systems And Methods To Repossess A Vehicle,” and it’s as exactly customer-friendly for Ford owners as it sounds.
The patent, which was filed in August 2021 but not formally published until last week, largely outlines the various methods in which how a car dealership/financier can work around car owners who have missed or are habitually late on car payments.
“The disclosure generally pertains to systems and methods to repossess a vehicle,” the patent’s opening line under “Abstract” reads.
The rest of the patent abstract describes a rather dystopian-sounding system wherein which various computer systems have, effectively, replaced the repo man.
The example cited in the abstract depicts a pair of computers, one in the car and the other with a financing agency (or bank or lender.)
The computer with the agency may flag the system that a car owner is delinquent on a payment. That system then sends a message to the computer in the car.
Once the car computer receives that message, and some time has passed without a response from the owner, that car computer could take over the entire vehicle.
“When an acknowledgement is not received within a reasonable period of time, the first computer may disable a functionality of a component of the vehicle or may place the vehicle in a lockout condition,” the patent reads.
Something as wide-ranging as “may disable a functionality of a component of the vehicle” could cover anything from your windows to the radio dial.
The patent does note that those lockouts could be temporarily lifted in the event of a medical emergency.
“The first step of the multi-step repossession procedure may involve the computer instructing the repossession system computer to disable a functionality of one or more components of the vehicle,” the patent reads.
Just below that, the patent notes that, for example, “the categories can include a primary-use component category,” which includes rather important car functions like “the engine, the brake, the accelerator, the steering wheel, the doors, and the lights of the vehicle.”
Yes, it appears that failing to acknowledge these automated messages pinging between nebulous computer systems can directly lead to your car turning its engine off.
Another potential annoying feature of this patent: Failure to pay in a timely fashion could lead to “configuring the audio component to emit an incessant and unpleasant sound every time the owner is present in the vehicle.”
The patent does note that, while locking someone out of the car or turning the engine off is a worst-case scenario (only enacted after multiple attempts to contact the delinquent car owner), it’s still a scenario being built into Ford’s, apparently.
But the most dystopian of these scenarios presented by Ford’s patent is reserved specially for self-driving cars.
“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.”
So if you’re planning on buying a Ford anytime soon, especially one with even limited self-driving capabilities, make sure you dive deep into this patent.
Because from the sounds of it, something as benign as a clerical error in a billing department may very well lock you out of your own car.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.