Talk to Me, Like Drivers Do: Ford Comes Up With a New Way to Open a Door

Image: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The relationship between humans and cars is poised to become quite different in the years to come, or so the automakers warn promise us. Autonomous vehicles will whisk us to whatever destination we desire, simply by inputting our desired address into a navigation system or, perhaps, just by speaking it aloud. Already, the level of communication between humans and the modern car astounds.

We’ve come a long way from Chrysler’s Electronic Voice Alert, that nagging companion of the 1980s.

Now, Ford Motor Company looks ready to take our current relationship to the next level, while putting the human in charge. A U.S. patent published today describes a car that opens its doors only when it hears its master’s voice. And by “open,” we mean wide open, not just unlocked.

The patent describes a power assist device “coupled between the door and vehicle body on a hinge assembly” that’s connected to an audio sensor located on the exterior and/or interior of the vehicle. Voice command data gathered by the sensors flow to a controller, which first interprets the command, then opens (or closes) the appropriate door.

Ford’s “smart” door system would be able to apply extra muscle to the door via the power assist device if the car is parked on an incline, choosing to open it fully or stopping at any number of pre-programmed angles. Sensors would prevent the door from striking objects during the opening and closing procedures, sparing both fingers and garage-bound trash cans. The patent describes a “soft close feature” that prevents the doors from slamming with too much force, even if a occupant initiates it by hand.

Certain high-end vehicles, including the Tesla Model X, already feature doors that open by themselves when prompted by a signal, and Ford’s Lincoln Continental has portals that unlatch and open ever so slightly after sensing a hand placed inside the fixed handle. However, Ford’s system would be able to open those doors fully, and would do it after hearing your voice. This would come in handy when your arms are full of groceries.

There’s actually any number of ways the doors could receive an audio signal. Drivers could send an “open” or “close” signal via a button located on the door or within the vehicle, or by a button on the driver’s key fob. By using a “record” mode, new users could program their voice commands into the system, thus allowing the car to recognize them. Still conceptual, the wide-open patent leaves plenty of options open for the automaker. Whatever its final form, convenience will be key.

The option of manually opening one’s doors will certainly remain, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to yell at your car and actually have it respond?

H/T to Bozi Tatarevic!

[Images: United States Patent and Trademark Office]

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