By on February 13, 2018

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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31 Comments on “Talk to Me, Like Drivers Do: Ford Comes Up With a New Way to Open a Door...”

  • avatar

    TOO many dystopian sci-fi jokes suggested by one little press release.

    I’m going to curl up in the corner until the giggling in my head stops.

  • avatar

    “Watch, watch, watch…’open the door’, did you see that? It opened!” “Yeah, Frank, we saw it the first ten times, can we go get something to eat now?”

  • avatar

    I love my Ford’s foot-operated tailgate. It’s so handy when my hands aren’t free, and, in winter, much more pleasant than touching a hatchback handle coated in ice or mag chloride grime. My driver’s door doesn’t seem to present those same issues. I’m not likely to have my hands full of shopping bags, for example. So it seems like an overcomplicated solution to a trivial problem, but that’s what the modern world is best at. And, sorry, but I’m a 20th Century Man who doesn’t enjoy speaking to robots.

    • 0 avatar

      Same for me when I am forced to have a “conversation” with an Intelligent Voice-Recognition (IVR) phone system, where there are no options for “press 1 to…!”

      IVR: “Say ‘Customer Service.’”
      Me: “FVCK YOU!!!” (::Presses ‘0’ key repeatedly trying in vain to speak to an actual human, even if it’s someone named “Jim,” with English as a fifth language, in Bangalore!::)

      I’m sure my yelling which results is unpleasant if the call is “monitored for quality control,” to say nothing of the obscenities!

      • 0 avatar

        Some time ago I read that phone voice response menus were capable of detecting stress and cuss words, and would automatically route you to a human.

        I’ve had mixed results just banging on the “0” key.

        • 0 avatar

          All IVR systems are not equal and vary in features based on how much the company is willing to pay for the system and customize it to their customer base.

          “Natural Language” systems are obviously more expensive and require more programming and training to route the majority of calls correctly.

          We’re just now entering the world where the IVR is capable of judging that a customer is irate and needs to be routed accordingly — either directly to a live person or even automatically escalated to a level 2 rep.

          The hard part is designing systems that properly tailor to the customer base. I remember when my credit card company switched from a DTMF (touch tone) interface to an exclusively Natural Language interface. Having to say your 16 digit credit card number out loud was both stupid and insecure and it took them several months to redo the system to accept either language or DTMF.

  • avatar
    Sam Hall

    But can you set the password? “Speak ‘friend’, and enter.”

  • avatar

    Answer to a question nobody asked.

  • avatar

    I curse my wife’s power liftgate on her Edge. This is gonna be Wonderful!

    • 0 avatar

      In my experience, Ford is the only company that gets it right. I see others wave their foot a dozen times before giving up and using the keyfob. Ford owners, typically one or two swipes of the foot.

      • 0 avatar

        The engineers weren’t trying to make it easy for a housewife with three bags of groceries to open the hatch of her SUV.
        They were trying to figure out a way to make a woman in heels stand on one foot, swing her other leg, and fall down, spilling her groceries all over. (And charge here extra for the privilege!)

  • avatar

    Knowing Ford this will not come close to working.

    “Fusion open door” – trunk opens.

    “Fusion open door” – Windows roll down

    “Fusion open door” – Radio starts blaring ABBA

    “Fusion open door” – Tires deflate

    “Fusion open door” – Door finally opens into the car next to you.

  • avatar

    HAL, Open the pod bay door, HAL!

  • avatar

    I have no wish whatsoever to talk to my car.

    But I’d love it if my car could hold the door open at an arbitrary angle to prevent contact with other cars, walls, etc.

  • avatar

    So Ford doors may have mirrors with embedded turn signals, heating and motor driven adjustment. Said door also has power windows, power door locks and one or more speakers. Now lets add a door opening/closing motor and a sensor system so you don’t bash the Merc parked next to you. Oh and a voice recognition microphone so it can hear your request.
    How much is that door gonna cost? What will the repair bill look like? I won’t be an early adopter, for the same reason I’ve sworn off Audis.
    (When my now daughter-in-law decided to date my son, she googled him. The only thing she could find was a police report about his stolen car door. It was an older Caddy and GM no longer supplied the door wiring harness. That sure made his car undrivable. Am I too uncharitable in noting that there are several body shops near where he lived at the time?)

  • avatar

    So, does it open wider depending on the size of your a–? And can they maybe make one that lifts up when its aging owner with bad knees approaches? Maybe that way we’ll be able to buy regular cars again.

  • avatar

    What about when you get sick and lose your voice?

  • avatar

    What about when it’s covered in snow, or you’re in a noisy environment and it can’t hear you?

  • avatar

    Ford: Discriminating against the mute since 2018.

  • avatar

    What if your Ford responds “I don’t care for your tone” and refuses to open the door?

  • avatar

    I can see SO many ways that can be misused, abused and become downright deadly. It’s already bad enough that people can steal your car just by relaying your key fob’s signal from your bedroom to the door lock. Now someone will be able to just walk up to your car and say, “open” and drive away.

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