A rendering from Ford's patent application depicting wireless communication between the offending vehicle and the autonomous police vehicle.

A rendering from Ford's patent application depicting wireless communication between the offending vehicle and the autonomous police vehicle. 

A recently published patent application from Ford wants to bring autonomous vehicles to police fleets, using artificial intelligence to find and punish drivers and other autonomous vehicles that break traffic laws.

In its application, which was submitted in July 2016 and only recently released to the public, Ford highlights autonomous vehicles as the future of mobility, stating that policing can benefit from this technology as well.

The patent argues that autonomous police vehicles can take over routine police tasks, such as issuing tickets for speeding or rolling through a stop sign. This, in theory, will free up officers to perform tasks that can’t be automated.

“The advent and continuous development of driver assistance systems enhance and automate the driving process for safety and improved user experience,” the patent reads. “One example is autonomous vehicles, which can sense the environment and surrounding areas to navigate without human input.”

There are a few ways Ford says the autonomous police vehicles could enforce traffic safety.

In one scenario, the artificial intelligence (AI) uses machine learning to identify “good hiding spots to catch violators of traffic laws,” and park behind obstructing objects such as trees. The vehicles can be equipped with sensors to identify speed, and can determine where to aim those sensors to accurately monitor traffic.

Upon identifying a motorist violating a traffic law, the autonomous police vehicle can take off in pursuit. Using cameras and sensors, the police vehicle may monitor and track the movement of the vehicle and record its license plate number.

If the police car pulls over the offending vehicle, it can wirelessly transmit a message indicating the violation and capture an image of the driver’s license for whoever is operating the vehicle. Ford indicates that consumer vehicles may be equipped with a camera to send the image or have a stored image of the license in its database.

The autonomous vehicle will then be able to issue a ticket or a warning, impose a fine, and indicate the vehicle is fee to leave.

Another option is to synch the autonomous police vehicles with remote sensors, such as traffic cameras and roadside sensors.

If a traffic camera captures a vehicles speeding or running a red light, it can transmit the vehicle information the nearest autonomous police vehicle. When in pursuit of a vehicle, the police cars would also be able to utilize traffic cameras to monitor the speed and movement of offending vehicles.

Ford indicates in its patent that the vehicle can track, monitor, and issue citations to vehicles in both manual driving mode and autonomous driving mode. Via wireless communication, the AI police vehicle would know whether or not the vehicle it pulled over was in autonomous or manual mode when it committed the violation.

“While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws, a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time,” the patent says. “When a vehicle is under the control of a human driver there is a possibility of violation of traffic laws. Thus, there will still be a need to police traffic.”

In a statement to the Washington Post, Ford said even if the patent is approved, it doesn’t guarantee the technology will every actually be produced.