Ford is looking into pairing drones with autonomous cars, (which is) why the automaker recently filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a drone deployment system that will “extend the range at which the vehicle is about to obtain information on its surroundings.”
According to the patent, occupants of a self-driving vehicle would use its infotainment or navigation system to control the drone and have it function as an external aerial sensor. And the concept is not restricted to land and air use since the drone could be “a terrestrial model capable of land travel or a marine model capable of traveling on top or under water.”
About 20 students at Ford’s Detroit neighbor, Wayne State University, have come closest to duplicating the concept of the automaker’s patent app. Working with drone maker Skypersonic LLC, the students developed a prototype that can show images from a drone’s camera on a car’s in-dash screen.
“We are mainly trying to design an autonomous system for the drone to come inside the car for the driver, so that whenever he wants it, with the click of a button, he can give instructions just sitting in the car,” Amey Chodankar, a Wayne State graduate student told The Detroit News.
You might recall that Ford and DJI announced a $100,000 developer challenge at CES this past January. This article explains what the press release didn’t at the time, “the goal of the challenge is to assist emergency aid workers by launching drones from the bed of an F-150 pickup to inspect disaster areas inaccessible to vehicles.”
This is a classic, time proven strategy – put the scouts out in front of the main force. If you want to get into a more in-depth discussion of the concept, I recommend this interview in Waypoint on terrestrial/flying robot collaboration with Prof. Davide Scaramuzza, the head of the University of Zurich’s Robotics and Perception Group.