Innovation

Robots could write your next speeding ticket, if Ford's autonomous cop car comes to pass

A Ford patent describes an autonomous police vehicle that uses sensors to identify traffic violators and give out tickets.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Ford filed a US patent application for autonomous police cars that can issue speeding tickets.
  • Automating routine police tasks such as issuing tickets can free up human officers to perform other duties.

While we tend to worry about artificial intelligence (AI) replacing or complementing jobs in fields like manufacturing and finance, police officers may be next in line to see certain tasks replaced by machines—or in this case, by autonomous cars. In January, Ford filed a US patent application for self-driving police cars that could someday replace traffic officers.

While this may sound a bit dystopian, surveillance technologies such as cameras and bulk data collection are already used in the US, our sister site ZDNet noted, and policing via AI may just be the next step. Dubai also recently unveiled its first robot police officer, and plans for these AI officers to make up a quarter of its police force by 2030.

More about autonomous vehicles

Special report: Tech and the future of transportation (free PDF)

This ebook, based on the latest special feature from ZDNet and TechRepublic, looks at emerging autonomous transport technologies and how they will affect society and the future of business.

Automating routine police tasks such as issuing tickets for speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign can free up human police officers to perform other duties, the patent stated.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)

An autonomous police car could enforce traffic laws by identifying violators, pulling their vehicle over, capturing an image of their license plate and the driver's license (assuming there is a human driver), and determining whether to issue a warning or a ticket, according to the patent. The vehicle would either keep a record of its encounters, or transmit them to the police station or department of motor vehicles.

This system would use sensors, such as cameras or laser systems, to detect the speed of nearby vehicles. These might be sensors on the car itself as well as surveillance cameras around a city. The cars would also be trained using machine learning to find good hiding places to catch violators, and to learn where to aim their sensors.

It should be noted that this is only a patent application, and may not come to fruition. But as we grow closer to seeing autonomous cars sharing the roads with humans, it is certainly a possibility.

SEE: Tech and the future of transportation (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

While many project that humans and autonomous systems will work alongside each other, many are worried that autonomous cars in particular will replace human workers. Some 81% of Americans believe that these technologies will cause many professional drivers to lose their jobs, according to a Pew Research Center study. In particular, autonomous semi-trucks appear to be on the horizon, and potential savings in labor costs and fuel efficiency may be difficult for many companies to pass up.

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Image: iStockphoto/mputsylo

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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