Ford Gets Serious About Car Drones

America’s automaker bets the drone-car combo creates a fantastic duo for driving.

Cars and drones may soon be working in tandem – in both war zones and on city streets.

Early last year, The United Nations held a developer’s challenge with Ford and a China-based drone maker, DJI. The task: create software that teaches drones to fly from, and return to, a moving Ford F-150 pick-up truck.

The UN wants to use drones as a reconnaissance tool in emergency zones. Cars with drones attached could start off towards disaster areas. The drones could fly ahead of the vehicles, relaying important information about the situation back to drivers and other people on the ground.

Only one out of the ten teams succeeded at getting a drone to return to the truck. Yet, it didn’t stop the carmaker from sensing larger commercial applications for the technology.

This summer Ford filed a car patent for an “automotive drone deployment system.” The idea: drones fly ahead and map out what an autonomous car’s sensors can’t yet detect.

While it’s not clear how the drone will outperform apps like Waze, which already assist drivers in real-time, the patent filing says the drone device extends “the range of any one or more sensors, visual systems and/or communications interfaces that may be onboard the vehicle.” Passengers would control the drone using the vehicle’s infotainment and navigation systems.

And if drones can be used by the U.N. in natural disaster areas, they can also help off-road adventure seekers avoid rocks or other obstacles on non-paved paths (definitely, beyond the capabilities of current GPS apps).

  Related: Do Amazon’s Drones Signal Larger Ambitions?

Other Car And Drone Combos

But Ford isn’t the only one imagining what’s possible from a drone-car combo. Mercedes-Benz took a stake in Matternet, a Silicon Valley-based drone maker. The German automaker believes drones can turn their popular Sprinter vans into mobile delivery systems.

Matternet drones can transport 4.4 pounds and travel 12 miles on a single battery charge. So if a delivery driver parks in a neighborhood, an army of drones can get to work delivering packages to doors.

Andreas Raptopoulos, co-founder and CEO of Matternet said about the partnership: “We are driven by a common vision to automate last-mile logistics, which today is the least efficient and most expensive part of logistics. Through this partnership, we are building solutions that will dramatically reduce the time and cost of on-demand delivery.”

Whether either use-case is the future between cars and drones remains to be seen, but what’s clear is that innovators believe the sum of these two technologies can be more than just its parts.

   Article written by MG Rhodes. Submitted 3/3/17

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