Patent documents from Ford Motor Company, unearthed by the folks at CarBuzz, show that the automaker could be planning to introduce an autonomous shuttle service. The patent application, which describes a “Passenger Pickup System and Method Using an Autonomous Shuttle Vehicle”, was originally filed in September, 2016 – little under a year after Ford first announced its “Smart Mobility” initiative. The patent was granted last week.
Ford’s autonomous shuttle patent describes a system in which, predictably, customers can call for rides using a mobile app, prompting a self-driving shuttle to dispatch to their location. CarBuzz says that the shuttles could either be called for individual trips, or could operate along predefined routes in the same way as city bus systems. Either way, in cases where multiple riders in the same location are hailing rides, the shuttles would use either a temporary security code or Bluetooth pairing with the user’s device to verify identity and prevent people from boarding the wrong shuttle accidentally.
Ford also seems to be concerned with safety and security on its autonomous shuttles, with the patent describing a feature of the shuttle app that would allow riders to send a distress signal in the case of an emergency. A camera could be positioned over the door to stream a recording of the reported incident to Ford’s data center.
At this point, Ford could be drawing closer to making an autonomous shuttle service like the one described in its patent a reality. The automaker acquired San Francisco-based shuttle service Chariot back in 2016, and has been expanding the service far and wide ever since, even launching in London, England earlier this year. The company also continues to test its own self-driving prototype cars in multiple locations, and in January, Ford opened up about the development of a cloud-based mobility platform being carried out with Silicon Valley partner Autonomic.