This week Ford secured a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a new off-road autonomous driving system.

The patent focuses on off-road obstacle detection and response, with Ford describing a semi-autonomous/autonomous system using a combination of sensors, radar, LiDar, topographical map data, and cameras to digest and interpret data regarding off-road obstacle passage, redirection, and avoidance. An obstacle capable of being sidestepped or crossed over would alert and calibrate the vehicle’s active suspension system to move forward. A second alert warns passengers in the event an obstacle cannot be cleared.

A variety of new applications have been attributed to Ford’s latest offroading patent. Rollover risks would alert passengers to exit, and unsafe routes could trigger the system to suggest an alternative route. Multiple settings could be activated, such as a rock crawling, ditch crossing, or ground clearance avoidance modes that adjust the vehicle’s suspension accordingly.

Suspension settings would also adjust the vehicle’s suspension in full autonomous or semi-autonomous modes, calibrating its computer-controlled springs, shocks, roll-bars, ride height, and others.
Ford’s patent application includes details of a remote device override capable of nullifying the off-road system’s autonomous output to use the driver’s discretion.

Several diagrams produced by Ford describe the system in greater detail, illustrating scenarios with sketches and flowcharts with decision paths and outcomes based on a set of conditions (e.g., when the system detects a rollover risk.)

To date, there have been relatively few offroad autonomous or semi-autonomous assistance systems. One example is Toyota’s Crawl Control technology, which equips the Land Cruiser, 4Runner TRD, and Tacoma TRD with sensors to detect driving conditions and toggle acceleration and braking settings to each wheel for greater control. However, Ford’s patent enables the computer to take control of the entire vehicle without driver intervention.

No details have yet to be provided on a timetable or plan to put Ford’s new off-road autonomous driving system into production.