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Automakers file cool, interesting patents and trademarks all the time, but not every filing finds its way into production. Many are left on the shelf, a small and forgotten piece to a larger puzzle, and Ford is no stranger to that. The company has filed patents for a retractable exhaust tip, heated seat belts, and other oddities. Its latest filing is for a deployable autonomous drone designed to scan off-road terrain for the best possible path.

Surprisingly, this isn’t Ford’s first patent filing for a deployable drone. In 2019, the office published a Blue Oval patent (filed in 2016) for a drone that would follow the vehicle. The new patent, filed in 2020 and published today, gives the surveillance machine a lot more complexity and a purpose.

Ford envisions its new deployable drone working with GPS data and the vehicle’s onboard sensors to help the vehicle navigate rugged, off-road terrain. According to Ford’s filing, the World Bank organization discovered that 31 percent of the world’s population does not live near an all-season road, and 98 percent of those people live in developing countries. This system could make it easier to access these areas and deliver important last-mile goods and services.

Ford also sees the technology being used by fleets where a drone could help determine which vehicle is the one best suited to tackle a specific type of challenging terrain. The drone could provide real-time data and information about the landscape that satellites and GPS maps might not be able to provide, especially during extreme weather events.

As with all patent filings, there’s no indication we’ll see a deployable drone option on the next F-150. A deployable drone feels a bit too futuristic, but could the tech have a useful purpose for most people? Probably not, which is why Ford is giving its drone an important task instead of allowing it just to be a creeper.

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