A Ford patent to project billboard advertisements onto infotainment screens may pose “worrying” safety issues.

The patent, filed in the US by Ford in 2016, has hit headlines over recent weeks. It will enable cameras on a car to obtain pictures of billboards as it drives past. The infotainment system will then display these or associated information.

Steady as she goes

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, believes there are worrying safety issues involved. Whilst fully autonomous vehicles may be the long-term idea, in the short-term semi autonomous vehicles are not suitable.

“We have a lot of concerns over the use of media on screens at the moment, and I suppose there’s more of a concern with this intermediate step that the government is talking about. I think anything in that situation, that encourages the driver to be distracted, is worrying.”

The government intends to legalise the use of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) on UK roads from the end of this year. This is seen as a first step towards legalising self-driving cars on our roads. Avery is concerned that manufacturers may view this as an opportunity to introduce such tech.

Eyes on the road

Fully automated cars are a different issue.  “In terms of an automated vehicle — and they are just around the corner — I don’t see a problem with it,” Avery told Driving.co.uk. “In fact, it’s almost what we’d expect.

“There’s even talk about using the driver monitoring camera that’s looking at where you’re looking, to understand what you’re looking at, to see what’s interesting to you. There’s an awful lot of potential in this technology.”

Ford said that it submits patents on new inventions as a normal course of business. It does not guarantee the technology will end up on future cars. A spokesperson added that the company had no intention of impeding driver alertness.

Safety expert questions Ford billboard patent

Safety not on the menu

In the patent filing, Ford used the example of a hot dog stand. This created a mock-up that displayed the stand’s name, slogan, address and contact details. Ford could potentially monetise the system by providing the relevant online links and personalised ads.

In the patent, the car maker said: “The driver and/or passenger has a limited amount of time to obtain information from the billboard located near the road as the vehicle approaches and passes the billboard.”

“In some instances the driver or passenger may miss information of the advertisement on the billboard.”

Not the first

Ford is not the only company to have considered such technologies. BMW unveiled a “gaze recognition system”  in 2019, allowing tech to follow drivers line of sight and provide information for the likes of restaurants or theatres.

The potential for distraction is too high according to Avery.

“Screens are fine in cars when they give you a very brief piece of information — your speed, or ‘turn left’, ‘turn right’,” he said. “But anything that requires a lot more focus has got the ability to be really distracting.”