Ford patent envisions self-driving car as movie theater

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Get your popcorn ready; autonomous technology could turn your car into a movie theater on wheels.

Ford Motor Co. earlier this month filed patent No. 9272708B2 for an “autonomous vehicle entertainment system” that would “present media content on a first display while the vehicle is operating in the autonomous mode.” According to the filing, that display could take many forms, but could be an opaque projection screen that would lower from the car’s head-liner and hang behind the windshield and steering wheel while the car drove itself.

It envisions a projector mounted to the car’s head-liner between the seats and aimed at the screen. Ford said the projector, screen or both could be configured to retract into the roof when a driver had to operate the vehicle in normal mode.

Instead of using a projector and screen, the patent says the entertainment system could also show movies or other content on the “dashboard, an instrument cluster or a rearview mirror.” The car could be configured to show media content from a smartphone or other device, the patent said.

“Instead of concentrating on numerous driving-related responsibilities, the driver may be free to watch movies or other media content, converse with other passengers, read, etc., while riding in an autonomous vehicle,” Ford said in the patent.

The entertainment system would shut off if the driver ever had to take over.

Ford President and CEO Mark Fields has said he envisions that someone will have a fully autonomous car on the road by the end of the decade, but Ford won’t necessarily be first. It’s unclear if Ford would ever bring the entertainment system to market even if they did have a driverless car.

“As a technology leader, we submit patents on innovative ideas as a normal course of business,” a Ford spokesman said in a statement. “Patent applications are intended to protect new ideas but aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.”

Ford has been among the leaders in testing autonomous technology. Its lineup of vehicles include several semi-autonomous safety features; it recently tripled the size of its driverless Fusion test fleet; it’s experimenting with autonomous winter driving; and last year Ford opened an office in Silicon Valley that, among other things, works on driverless technology with university partners.

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