Ford is repurposing autonomous vehicles for all the right reasons.
Truck ownership can be a lot of fun. You can see over most other motorists, you can go just about anywhere, and you can use these vehicles for business and pleasure in equal measure. But that pleasure tends to dissipate after a few unsuccessful attempts at hitching your trailer. It's embarrassing to have to try over and over again, but things like rearview cameras help simplify the process. Still, it can be a challenge to master towing. That's why the likes of GM have found ways of making it simpler while Ford has developed a system to make reversing a trailer easier called Pro Trailer Backup Assist. But it seems that this was not satisfactory, and now the Blue Oval is working on a more advanced system that will do the deed without needing a driver behind the wheel. That's right, autonomous trailer hitching could become a reality for your Ford F-150 Lightning.
CarBuzz unearthed a new Ford patent application with the USPTO this morning, seemingly depicting a truck autonomously hitching to a trailer. This new application is being described as a "trailer hitching assistance system with contact mitigation measures." It is designed to assist in aligning a vehicle with a trailer and includes a controller that can scan the environment behind the vehicle to make maneuvering towards it simpler. Numerous scanners and camera angles and controllers make up the system, but the simplest way to describe it is as an automatic hitching system.
The idea is that the system will be able to automatically maneuver a truck towards a trailer even if the two vehicles are not aligned. Furthermore, the system can warn against and help prevent hitting the trailer with your vehicle.
The system also offers various views of the rear of the vehicle, with a detached view allowing you to see the entire trailer. Once the system detects that you're within a certain distance of the trailer, the view changes to one that includes the trailer hitch receiver and the trailer itself. With superimposed graphics on the display, as well as distance sensors, the system can visually and audibly warn against a changed course that would prevent hitching and can also detect when you may be in danger of reversing past the hitch. With brake and steering controllers mentioned in the patent application, the entire process of getting hitched could be much less stressful and completely hands-free. All diagrams show the occupant outside of the vehicle, looking at a phone, so it seems the new system could be integrated into a mobile app, possibly expanding the functionality of the FordPass app.
Ford has also applied for this patent in Germany, so we expect this to become a globally available feature if it gets the go-ahead.