Ford's Autonomous Police Car Explained

Last week, news broke of American manufacturer Ford working on a system that it would allow it to create the world's first autonomous police car. In this case, autonomous means not only capable of driving itself but able to determine traffic violations and take action.
2017 Ford Police Interceptor 15 photos
Photo: Ford
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Ford apparently filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) back in 2016, but only last week the organization made the documents public. The papers list four inventors and Ford Global Technologies as the applicant.

The system is probably years before full development is achieved. It is not even clear if Ford will ever integrate such a system into police vehicles. What is certain though is that this patent application shows that automakers will not stop at making autonomous cars drive themselves, but will slowly begin integrating more and more advanced technologies into their vehicles.

Ford's autonomous police system could probably be integrated into any of the carmaker's existing vehicles. It is meant to automate routine police tasks, such as issuing tickets for speeding or failure to stop at a stop sign. It can also “obtain an indication of violation of one or more traffic laws by a first vehicle,” will the be able to “pursue” that first vehicle. It can identify the owner of the car and issue fines or warnings.


The AV system will comprise a series of sensors and processors linked in such a way that they create a decision-making machine.

The system can be trained using machine learning tools, including deep neural networks to find right hiding spots and use them to catch those who break the traffic laws. It could hide behind an object to become „inconspicuous” and could decide where to point the cameras or laser systems which it is equipped with for the best line of sight. It will also be capable of repositioning itself if it determines the current position is of no use to it. The vehicle will be linked wirelessly to the central computer system.

To determine, for instance, the speed limit for the stretch of road which is monitoring, the AV will connect to a local traffic laws database, or it will send a query to the central computer system it is linked with.

Should it find another vehicle to be in violation of the law, the AV will be capable of identifying the owner of the respective car: it could also pull over that car or capture an image of its license plate. The AV system should be able to identify the driver, receive a picture of his/her driver license and determine whether to issue a warning or a ticket for the violation.

When that decision has been made, the AV will communicate to the offending vehicle the fact that a warning or a ticket has been issued and then would let that car go.

In principle, Ford says its police car will be able to control another vehicle's speed and steering, should that car have broken the law and try not stop. Thus the AV can, in essence, pursue offenders and automatically pull them over.

As far as Ford's patent application describes, the autonomous police vehicle should be used sometime in the future but only in regards to other autonomous-capable cars. What that means is that, at least for now and on paper, Ford's AV system will be able to take the above-described actions only against vehicles that are more or less networked.


Ford's autonomous police vehicle is on a mission. It hides under an overpass, points its cameras to multiple directions and waits. Soon, a vehicle driving over the speed limit makes it in the crosshairs.

The AV sends a query to the perpetrator through wireless communication, asking it whether it is in autonomous or manual driving mode. The perp responds, saying is in manual driving mode and, when asked by the police vehicle, sends it information about the driver, including driver's license.

The perp vehicle and its driver are then informed about what they did wrong and told about the fact that a ticket or a warning has been issued.

As said, for now, an autonomous police vehicle is still far off. And since autonomous passenger vehicles don't seem to be such a frightening sight anymore, AV police cars to control them might not be such a bad idea either.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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