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Ford patent filing could put drones over public roads

Drones would use advanced communication tech to avoid crashes with people, other obstacles

Ford wants to connect trucks, vans, pedestrians and everything else on the road to delivery drones in the air (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Just a few months after publishing an ambitious drone delivery patent that would combine delivery vans with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Ford Motor Co. may have upped its own ante.

As company watchdog Ford Authority noted on Monday, a patent filing the automaker (NYSE: F) made in June 2021 and quietly published earlier this month calls for “systems and methods for operating drone flights over public roadways.”

Image obtained online from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Some within the drone industry refer to the delivery method being laid out in Ford’s patent as a “drone highway,” an aerial corridor above a public road and other property that state governments can lease to drone delivery providers.

Regulatory hurdles have thus far prevented the establishment of drone highways — federal, state and local lawmakers are hesitant to bring drones into public airspace given concerns around safety and privacy. But that’s where Ford’s proposed solution might come in.

Communication among drones, people and other systems is at the core of the idea. The filing envisions drones equipped with vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication that broadcasts their current positioning and planned trajectory.

Watch: Drone mailboxes and city-wide drone networks are on the horizon

The aircraft would fly along predetermined routes and be capable of alerting other drones, nearby vehicles and mobile devices of potential crashes, whether due to low battery life, adverse weather or some other reason. Ford even proposed making flight path data available before takeoff via a publicly available and continuously updating database.

While the proposed solution wouldn’t do anything to prevent drones crashing into the ground, it could go a long way toward preventing collisions with humans, animals or each other.

This newest filing from Ford is just one in a string of drone delivery-related patent applications. In addition to the delivery van-drone hybrid model unveiled a few months ago, the automaker has filed patents for a vehicle-mounted drone storage compartment, a drone-powered jump-start system and what is essentially a mobile drone car wash.

Still, the actual product is behind that of Workhorse Group, which in 2018 secured a patent similar to Ford’s delivery van and drone hybrid. Since then, the company has entered prototype drone production and run several pilots of its technology.

Click for more Modern Shipper articles by Jack Daleo.

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Jack Daleo

Jack Daleo is a staff writer for Flying Magazine covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel — and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.