There are plenty of terrifying videos showing vehicles somehow stuck in a railroad crossing and a train hitting crashing into them. Whenever this happens, the train wins. Ford has a new patent for mitigating this type of collision by detecting if a locomotive is coming.
In one implementation, there are two primary parts to Ford's patent. First, there would be a sensor on the train tracks before and after the machine goes through the railroad crossing. The other primary portion is a detector in the automobile that would monitor for signals from the track-side sensors.
Having two sensors on the tracks allows the system to make sure that the train fully exited the crossing. The tech can also tell whether the locomotive comes to a stop, begins reversing, or is out of the way.
Ford also describes a second, far simpler implementation of this concept. Sensors like cameras or lidar in a vehicle would be able to detect the crossbar or warning signs at a railroad crossing to know if a train is coming.
The patent takes the idea further by outlining a plan to communicate this info between vehicles. This would let people know that they'd need to stop at the crossing before reaching it. The message would also go out to emergency services so that they could avoid the area if trying to reach somewhere in a hurry.
Ford sees this tech as being useful for autonomous vehicles. Giving the car the ability to stop automatically at a train crossing would reduce the instances of the driver needing to take control of the vehicle.
As with any patent, we can't be sure whether Ford actually plans to implement this train-detecting system or when we might see it in a vehicle. Automakers file the paperwork to protect all sorts of ideas.