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Car and Driver: Ford Patents Windshield Entertainment System, Brings New Meaning to “Drive-In Movie”

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Ford autonomous car entertainment system

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Call it jumping the gun or simply thinking long-term about the realities of living with self-driving cars, but automakers are exploring the topic of entertaining vehicle occupants in autonomous cars. This, before a single wholly autonomous car has been sold to a customer, a milestone not expected to pass for years—if not decades—to come. A Ford patent, recently published by the U.S. Patent Office, offers a clue to the automaker’s thinking when it comes to occupying future car occupants: a giant drop-down projection screen.

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Based on the illustrations in Ford’s patent for an “Autonomous Vehicle Entertainment System,” the concept is not at all unlike that of a drive-in movie theater, only zoomed in somewhat for in-car viewers. It’s more of a drive-ing theater, with a roll-down screen that deploys from the top of the windshield and displays images from a ceiling-mounted projector. Ford acknowledges that the entertainment system could take the form of in-dashboard displays, a gauge-cluster screen, or even a tiny display embedded in the rearview mirror.

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Other manufacturers have been toying with in-car entertainment, from Volvo’s focus on video-streaming-capable mobile data connections to Faraday Future’s TV-screen-with-wheels concept from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. In Ford’s patented hypothetical, the entertainment system will either shut off or transition media to passenger-specific displays (mounted to the front seatbacks or the ceiling for rear-seat passengers) when the car switches out of autonomous mode and the driver retakes control—which is key, because it shows Ford is thinking of the in-between stages of autonomous-car development, where cars can operate by themselves only part of the time.

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This supports Ford’s public position that autonomous cars likely will still require drivers even after the company’s near-term plan for selling semi-autonomous cars comes to fruition in four years and its “autonomous cars” achieve Level 4 Automation as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. While Level 4 cars technically don’t require a driver, they can drive themselves only under optimal conditions in “climates that support optimal sensor performance and in areas that have been mapped in high resolution 3D,” as Ford puts it.

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When reached for comment, Ford issued this statement: “As a technology leader, we submit patents on innovative ideas as a normal course of business. Patent applications are intended to protect new ideas but aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.”

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Still, it isn’t difficult to imagine a car that can handle at least highway travel on its own would offer some form of in-car entertainment. And what better way to shield your mobile Netflix-and-chill sessions from other road users than with a giant screen covering the windshield?

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