Distracted driving has been around for as long as vehicles have existed, but it is largely considered a modern problem with the proliferation of mobile devices. Some argue the problem has only worsened as touch-screen center consoles—often called infotainment systems—have largely become an industry standard. Ever think that said center console screen was a great place for in-car advertisements? Well, some folks at Ford apparently have.
Ford Motor Company filed a patent application on May 6 that utilizes the vehicle’s camera systems to read billboards and display relevant information or possibly ads on the infotainment system. There are similar systems in many vehicles today, but these scan for speed limit and traffic signs. They also typically display the information on the dash or heads-up displays, not on the infotainment system. It should also be noted that just because Ford has patented the system doesn’t mean it will actually be implemented into their vehicles.
A Ford representative told Motor1 that the company “patents on new inventions as a normal course of business, but they aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.”
That being said, it isn’t hard to imagine in-car advertisements actually being a thing. Advertisements have crept their way into a large number of electronics: smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, computer start menus, eBook readers, etc. New televisions are probably the most egregious example, but ads are inescapable in the digital world. Just look at how hard Facebook is fighting against Apple’s change to have App Tracking Transparency on by default. The social media giant’s notice on Apple iOS to allow tracking says that it will “help keep Facebook free of charge.” That’s how important data collection and targeted ads are to them. So it isn’t surprising auto companies may also be looking to cash in.
A writer for Gizmodo wrote that they could see a day where car shoppers would have to pay extra for an ad-free package on their vehicle. Going one step further, a subscription service to remove ads is entirely plausible. But, this is still all just speculation and also assumes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or other government entities don’t step in.
According to the CDC and NHTSA, in 2018 “over 2,800 people were killed and an estimated 400,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.” And crashes involving self-driving cars have escalated fears of distracted driving. In April, two US senators proposed legislation that would, among other things, require vehicles to have a driver-monitoring system.
Driver-monitoring technology is nothing new though. Cadillac showed off their Driver Attention System a few years ago, which tracks the driver’s gaze to determine if they’re paying attention to the road. While using the Super Cruise self-driving feature, the driver can take their hands off of the wheel, but not paying attention to the road will cause alerts to occur. Ignore those alerts and the system will eventually disengage.
Again, there is no guarantee Ford’s billboard reader will ever see the light of day, but most will agree the idea is worrying. Nothing like spending thousands and thousands of dollars on a car just to get ads inside.