Imagine a police car that issues tickets without even pulling you over.
What if the same car could use artificial intelligence to find "good hiding spots" to catch traffic violators and identify drivers by scanning license plates, tapping into surveillance cameras and wirelessly accessing government records?
What if a police officer tapping on your car window asking for "license and registration" became a relic of transportation's past?
The details may sound far fetched, like they belong in the science fiction action flick "Demolition Man" or a new dystopian novel inspired by Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," but these scenarios are very much grounded in a potential reality.
They come from a 14-page patent developed by Ford and granted earlier this month by the U.S. government to create autonomous police cars.
Though experts claim autonomous vehicles will make driving safer and more rule-bound, Ford's patent argues that in the future, traffic violations will never disappear entirely.
"While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws, a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time," the patent says.
"When a vehicle is under the control of a human driver there is a possibility of violation of traffic laws. Thus, there will still be a need to police traffic."
A patent's approval does not ensure a product will be produced, but it can reveal a company's strategic planning.
The patent doesn't offer a timeline for the vehicle's development, and Ford did not respond to a request for comment about the patent and whether the manufacturer plans to develop an autonomous police vehicle.
Ford does, however, claim the company will have a fully autonomous vehicle in commercial operation as early as 2021.
The patent claims that autonomous police vehicles don't necessarily replace the need for human police officers. Some "routine tasks," such as issuing tickets for failure to stop at a stop sign, can be automated, the patent says, but other tasks that can't be automated will be left to people.
The patent - which was filed in July 2016 and includes elaborate diagrams depicting the police vehicle independently interacting with its environment - says officers could be inside the vehicle at all times and reclaim control of the car when necessary.
But the patent also outlines various scenarios in which an autonomous police vehicle would be able to carry out many tasks we associate with human officers.
In one scenario, a surveillance camera or roadside sensor documents a speeding vehicle. A signal is relayed through "a central computing system" to the autonomous police vehicle, which is tasked with pursuing the vehicle, tracking its location and capturing video that can be used to analyse the fleeing vehicle's movement.
In another, the police vehicle analyzes traffic patterns using machine learning - a type of artificial intelligence that gives computers the ability to learn without being programmed - to determine ideal spots for catching traffic violators.
Once an ideal hiding spot has been located, the vehicle uses sensors - lasers, cameras or some combination thereof - to monitor traffic in the most efficient way possible, according to the patent.
"Autonomous police vehicle may determine the threshold speed for a given section of road by searching a local traffic laws database for a legal speed limit for that section of road or by querying remote central computing system," the patent says.
The patent says the vehicle would be able to communicate wirelessly with other vehicles on the road and determine whether a vehicle is in self driving mode or being controlled by a human driver.
The patent says the offending vehicle would be able to communicate with the police car as well, providing a driver's license, for example.
Like traffic cameras already in use, tickets, the patent notes, could be issued remotely, and a record of the incident could be sent to a police station or the department of motor vehicles.