In a document published by the US Patent Office, Ford aspires to develop an autonomous police vehicle. A simple and modest definition would imply that the Michigan based automaker is in the process of developing a robotic cop car. In a closer examination through Ford’s patent application for the rob cop car, the automaker does mentions that this new car will be developed “in lieu or in addition to human police officers.” In theory, this might be loosely seen as a project that could work alongside a police officer on board. According to the automaker, this autonomous vehicle is laden with “machine learning tools” such as immense surveillance capabilities, road sensor, and camera aimed at restoring sanity on the roads.
Why the Skepticism?
The patent, which was first spotted by Motor 1 is largely seen an ambiguous, and exploratory project. This is despite the fact that it uses breakthrough technology. Firstly, even the crafty depiction by Ford of the proposed rob cop vehicle is not so convincing- it shows a rear-engined hatchback with five-spoke wheels, probably drawn by a lazy individual who was really fighting off his sleep. In addition, we’ve seen many companies that have registered a patent for a technology that is never made. Therefore Ford making an upfront patent does not really guarantee that the technology will get commercialized or even work in the real world.
And yes, it’s not wrong being skeptical, especially when the thought of the many pitfalls of machines performing police work runs through your head. Nonetheless, Ford is adamant and believes that the future of policing lies in the autonomous vehicle. If this project is not vaporware and manages to materialize, it will probably be the biggest technological step in the police department. To the critics, the project would round up the most dystopian visions of our future.
Surveillance and Tracking Features
Unlike the current policing robots by companies such as Knightscope, the Ford autonomous vehicle supersedes the existing robots in every way and comes with plenty of technological features to allow a variety of capabilities. In the patent document from Motor 1, the autonomous vehicles will be equipped with high-end surveillance and tracking gadgets such as cameras, license plate readers, road sensors, ultrasound sensors, touch-sensitive panels, LIDAR, radar detectors (laser guns), satellite connectivity and many others.
The Robocop vehicle will have the ability to connect with other devices, such as stationary speed cameras, and is even smart enough to find hiding places that are unnoticeable to motorists. However, that is not even the interesting part, further inference from the patent documents indicate that the robocop vehicles are going to use machine learning and neutral networks throughout, which heavily relies on Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Even though a full AI may not actually exist at the moment in the policing department, it will come at a time when human policing activities are facing huge resistance, and have even prompted alarms from the privacy advocates who are concerned about a dawning surveillance state. Given the level of controversy that is already surrounding the human policing activities, it can be quite unnerving to think what AI will do.
Over speeding is one of the most common infractions. Through deep neutral network(s) a Robocop vehicle will be able to find a spot behind an object and “hide” there inconspicuously while laying a trap for the over speeding offenders. While this is just a perfection of an old trick used by the police, the autonomous vehicles will now use AI to hide from humans.
Integration of Surveillance Networks
According to Ford, the autonomous vehicles will be attached to a local network of surveillance cameras, meaning that if you cause a traffic violation .i.e. change a lane without signaling, the cameras on the stoplights and stop signs will immediately send a signal to the robocars.
If you happen to commit an offense, Ford suggests that the robocars will use wireless communication to contact you and pull you over. From there the robocar will establish the identity of the vehicle and a that of the driver and issues a ticket. However, Ford is not exactly clear on how it will be able to make this work.
Routine Police Tasks
The final and most troubling task that Ford indicates on their patent is that their vehicles will be able to perform routine tasks. This we don’t how, but there’s nothing routine about being hunted by a robot.