Automakers regularly patent technologies they won't use, for fear of someone else thinking of and subsequently making money on the same idea. Let's all hope that one of Ford's recent patents stays hidden away forever.
Last week, a patent that Ford applied for in June 2015 was finally published. It outlines a system that uses crowdsourcing to gather identification on vehicles. A processor seeks identifying characters within a taken image, and if it matches the request received, it can report that it's found something.
There are all sorts of times when this would come in handy. If your car gets stolen, other cars on the road could start searching for your plate and report its location to the police in real time. If an Amber Alert is issued, the car in question won't take much time to find if a whole bunch of camera-equipped cars are capable of searching for it.
While it does provide some feel-good warmth in that regard, the privacy implications are on the freaky-deaky side. If some bad actors wanted to start tracking the movements of vehicles en masse, be it for some sort of suppression or for no reason whatsoever, how would anyone know it was happening? It doesn't matter who is in charge of keeping this database -- there's a very creepy Big Brother or Panopticon vibe coming from this system.
Thankfully, it appears Ford thought of this ahead of time. It mentioned that its system would be dedicated solely to asset protection, and that it would require owners to opt-in by providing information like a license plate number, address, phone number and vehicle identification number. The system could also notify vehicle owners to ensure that requests for tracking came from the owner and not some creepy third party. And it's unlikely that every automaker would opt to help Ford track plates, so it's not like every car on the road would be watching your moves.
Despite the added layers of security, it's still a bit unnerving. But for folks who just want to keep their car from being stolen and stripped, it's a fast-acting system that puts eyes in many more places than a police force could, and in that sense, it's a good idea.