Many makes and models have the tech to read traffic signs, including speed limits, delivering useful information to the driver. However, a new Ford patent hints at the technology’s potential future use – advertising. Roads are lined with unattractive billboards many of us ignore on our daily commutes, but Ford’s new tech will make sure we don’t miss them anymore.

The system works by scanning the billboards, interpreting the information on the sign, and delivering the most useful bits right into the vehicle’s display. It sounds invasive and distracting, with a side of Orwellian creepiness tossed on top for good measure. For now, though, this is just a patent application and may never see implementation, but it’s not difficult to see how this could be useful to automakers and advertisers. Ford’s application says the tech could display an advertiser’s products or services, directions to the store, or the phone number.  

It’s not a stretch to imagine a future where you’re driving down the road, and your car sees a sign for your favourite restaurant, prompting you to place an order because the vehicle knows Thursday is take-out night. Cars are only getting infused with more technology designed to assist people in their day-to-day lives, and this would be another avenue to do just that, creating a tailored driving experience. It could also force advertisers to pay Ford to access to its fleet of billboard-scanning-equipped cars, expanding revenue streams beyond the car itself.  

We reached out to Ford for a comment about the technology, the company replying that Ford submits “patents on new inventions as a normal course of business, but they aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.” It’s unlikely this technology will show up in your next Ford, but as automakers explore new products and services necessary to stand out in a competitive crowd, something like this could be a major selling point to some buyers. Or a major turn-off.