Home » Ford Patents AC Vents That Automatically Aim For Your Face

Ford Patents AC Vents That Automatically Aim For Your Face

Ford Face Aiming Patent
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Your car can feel like a furnace when you first get in on a hot day. Often, the first thing we do is put the air conditioner on full blast and point as many of the nozzles as possible directly at our face and body. Newer cars with climate control will generally automate the latter job of cranking up the cold, but directing the vents is traditionally left to the occupants of the vehicle. One of Ford’s latest patents could change all that, however.

The Michigan automaker has been busy over the last few years, patenting everything from in-car sanitizer bottles to in-car sanitizer lamps. However, not every idea the company has is reflective of a tortured post-pandemic society. Ford has also come up with a nifty “Vehicle Air Vent System” and secured a patent for the concept. It’s a nice feature in which the HVAC system will direct the flow from its vents directly towards a given target, such as an overheating driver or passenger in need of thermal relief.

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The concept would sound fantastical just 15 years ago, but today, it’s something any moderately experienced maker could build with off-the-shelf parts. The key to the system is a camera built into the dashboard. This camera captures vision of the driver, and using simple face-detection algorithms, can figure out their position in the vehicle. Armed with this information, the vehicle can then adjust the up-down angle and left-right angle of the HVAC vents to direct air directly at the driver.

Ford Auto Aim Vents 1
Ford’s patent outlines a simple concept for an automatically-controllable air vent.
Ford Auto Aim Vents 2
The camera system would use readily-available algorithms to detect the position of a driver or passenger in the scene.
Ford Auto Aim Vents 3
The system uses the camera to find the position of the vehicle occupants, and adjusts the vents accordingly.
Ford Auto Aim Vents 4
A flow chart indicating how the system works in a general sense.

On the surface, it sounds kind of frivolous. How hard is it to adjust the vents yourself? And yet, in some cases, it’s easy to imagine the utility of such a system. In some larger trucks, for example, you might find yourself sitting a ways back from the vents. You can lean forward to adjust them, sure. However, this often involves trial and error as you try and get them positioned right to direct air towards your position when you’re sitting normally. Simply having the vents aim at you automatically is much easier by comparison, and kind of luxurious.

It’s the kind of feature you’d expect to see in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a Rolls-Royce. Indeed, you can get digitally-controlled vents as part of the Thermotronic system on the latest Mercedes E-Class, but it’s not the same thing. The vent positions can be controlled via the infotainment touchscreen, with selections for the head, upper body, or to aim away from the passenger and driver. However, there doesn’t appear to be any intelligent sensing going on to get the aim right. The vent positions are just simple presets.

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Implementing this feature is actually very easy with today’s technology. First, you need a set of vents that can be moved on command. This is trivial for automakers, who mastered electric windows and power mirrors years ago. It simply involves adding some servos or motors to existing air vent designs. Beyond that, you just need an imaging system that can track humans in a video feed. This is easy, with face and body detection a problem that was solved long ago in the computer vision space.

Indeed, you could realistically build such a system into your own car if you’re handy enough. I’d start with a Raspberry Pi, which is a kind of credit-card sized computer. Hook it up with a camera with a fish-eye lens placed far back on the dashboard, and it should be able to see the driver and passenger perfectly well. Have it run a face-detection algorithm using the freely-available OpenCV library, so it can determine the positions of the driver and passenger. Then, you just need to calibrate a map correlating vent positions to the positions of the driver and passenger in the video feed. If you wanted to win a Nobel Prize for your work, you could also read the position of the seat rails. This would allow you to better account for the driver and passenger sitting closer or further back from the dash, and aim the vents accordingly.

Realistically, the hardest part would be modifying your vents to be controllable by the Raspberry Pi. I’d probably use some tiny servos to control stock vents, or maybe just 3D print some new vents from scratch. Ultimately, you’re just building a robotic sentry turret, but instead of shooting people with bullets, it’s blasting them with air.

We could also see the technology being used for mischief, too. Mount a windscreen washer nozzle on the vents, and have them track the passenger as normal. Then you can squirt them in the face at will. Probably not good for maintaining a friendship, but perhaps a useful bargaining tool if your pals aren’t coughing up for gas money on the long drive home from The Autopian meetup.

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For now, it’s just a patent. There’s no word on whether Ford plans to bring the tech to market on any vehicles in particular. It’d make a pretty fun demo for dealers doing a sales pitch, though, and we’d love to play with them too. Maybe they could call them Terminator Vents because it’s a die-hard robot that won’t stop until it finds the human its looking for? In any case, here’s hoping Ford makes these a reality sometime soon.

Image credits: Ford, US Patent and Trademark Office

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Myk El
Myk El
29 days ago

My mother would HATE this. She does not like the feeling of the air on her face.

Pappa P
Pappa P
30 days ago

I work on British buses that occasionally will shoot shards of broken glass out of the hvac vents onto paying passengers.
My company would jump at the opportunity to integrate or even retrofit this technology into our fleet.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
30 days ago

Right. With the AI revolution, what I want is precisely a car with facial recognition software built in from the factory!
OTOH, theft-prevention deterrents could definitely rise to new levels with this technology….

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
30 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

It’s already here with attention monitors.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
30 days ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

Ah, Christ on a Pogo stick, you’re right.
FML, I’m old

Space
Space
30 days ago

My mechanical vents stopped working years ago and they expect electric vents to last?

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
30 days ago

I actually prefer the air straight at my face…maybe since I’m usually wearing sunglasses…I can understand if you wear contacts it would be annoying…either way this is a stupid idea

Ham On Five
Ham On Five
30 days ago

If I want wind in my face, I’ll flip open my vent windows, TYVM.

Now, HVAC that detects and responds to an occupant’s hot flashes …

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
30 days ago

“Has this ever happened to you?”

Cue a terrible actor straining awkwardly to reach and adjust their air vents.
Actor knocks a huge big gulp out of the cup holder into an open briefcase on the passenger seat.
Car starts to veer into oncoming traffic.
Actor overreacts and yanks the steering wheel the other way.
Car careens off the road into a lake.
Cue over acted facepalm.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
30 days ago

As a contact lens wearer, this sounds horrible

Greensoul
Greensoul
30 days ago
Reply to  Xpumpx

Agreed, I don’t need contacts anymore but nothing dries my eyes out quicker than a blast of constant air hitting my them. If this feature ever does hit the market, I’m buying stock in an eye drop maker stat

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
30 days ago
Reply to  Xpumpx

Bingo. I absolutely hate having vents blow on my face and dry out my contacts. Even when I’m wearing my glasses I hate it.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
30 days ago

This is my idea of hell. I hate A/C in the first place and almost never use it. I LOVE getting into a hot car when it’s like 120+ in there, that is my idea of comfortable. I’m the lunatic driving around with my windows down when it’s 105 on a July afternoon. Additionally, pointing vents at my face is to be avoided, it makes my contact lenses feel crispy.

David Smith
David Smith
30 days ago

I prefer crank windows so I imagine you can guess what my opinion is.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
30 days ago
Reply to  David Smith

Crank windows are fine but I’m not inflexible on this point. Manually sliding windows, removable windows, and the absence of windows are also perfectly acceptable alternatives.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
30 days ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

What about Citroen flip-up windows?

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
29 days ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

I used to flip up my 2CV windows with punches. A little one on the release clip, then a bigger one to flip it all the way up to vertical and in the the catch at the top of the door.

More technology needs to respond to punches.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
28 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

Is there any other way?

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
29 days ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

Excellent point. I made that list by running through what I’ve got in terms of main windows for the driver’s position (therefore not counting vent windows) but flip-up windows certainly look like they should be quite good as well. I’ve never been in a position to try them, though.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
30 days ago

Hard no. I would want it to be turn-off-able. And yet more crap to break when us poors can afford the cars this will be in as used cars.

Nick
Nick
30 days ago

Like many others, I don’t need it tracking me to aim the air in my eyes. However, I think electromechanically actuated HVAC vents would be useful if they were tied to the memory seat function. Mirrors, too. There’s almost a foot of height difference between me and my wife, so when we’re switching cars, it would be genuinely convenient if pressing one memory profile button adjusted all the ergonomic parameters at once.

InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
30 days ago

Much rather have it aim at hands, but baby steps, right?

MrLM002
MrLM002
30 days ago

Seeing how AI treats hands I wouldn’t trust it to be accurate

Not a truck guy
Not a truck guy
30 days ago

While we’re on the HVAC topic can someone explain why there’s always an option for defroster and feet but not defroster and upper body? Absolutely flumoxed as to why I’m not allowed to warm my hands and windshield at the same time

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
30 days ago

That is a perfect and excellent question. I went wild with joy when, in Iceland, the Kia Sportage, I rented had dash and defrost as an HVAC choice. It was late march and early apirl so is was cold. I loved having that choice and since have wondered why not more cars have that option.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
30 days ago

Both of my Volvo’s have that option.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
30 days ago

That’s nice.

Wake me when they bring back the crotch cooler.

David Escargot
David Escargot
30 days ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

Came here for this… not disappointed

Greensoul
Greensoul
30 days ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

agreed

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
30 days ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

Word. I miss all the 80s GM vehicles I drove that had that feature. My 1987 Suburban would sometimes get stuck adjusting between vent zones and send all the air through those lower vents. On really nasty, hot Houston days, it was glorious.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
30 days ago

Just here to add on to the chorus of “Who on earth wants the vents pointed in their damn face?”

Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
30 days ago

Going against the grain here, I do enjoy the vents blowing directly at my head, but also aiming them myself and never touching them again isn’t that hard.

Alec Weinstein
Alec Weinstein
30 days ago

I was gonna say, face is the last spot I want it… Seems I’ve been beat.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
30 days ago

I aim the dash vents at my face (just below my eyes so it isn’t torture) on the first day I buy a car. Then I used the internationally recognised apex of HVAC controls (one of the three round dials) to turn those vents on if I need them.

This patent is clearly not for HVAC, it’s someone at Ford trying to get headhunted by an arms manufacturer for auto-aiming for headshots.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
30 days ago

Sorry, this is just dumb. This is just another system that will rely on components you either won’t be able to repair yourself or even get from Ford in 5 years time. And I’m sure adding complexity will make vehicles more affordable for the average person? Right!?

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
30 days ago
Reply to  Cool Dave

It’s a patent, not a feature they’re building.

Cerberus
Cerberus
30 days ago

Yuck. I hate everything about this, including the presumption that I want it aimed at my face to dry out my eyes when, if I’m getting in the car from the outside, it’s more likely I have other area cooling priorities. I’m not even sure of the point, anyway, with so many cars having remote start that would likely be used to pre-cool the whole cabin by such dainty types for whom this system seems to be designed. I would imagine working against the motors would make aiming them manually—simply and quickly—more difficult as well as giving Ford ample opportunity to make something foolproof another potential reliability and expensive repair issue. I have yet to find an automated device of any kind that consistently—or ever—makes the choice I want it to make. If they want to do something useful, they can bring back crotch vents.

Last edited 30 days ago by Cerberus
Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
30 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

There’s a joke in there about ‘blowing’ and ‘crotches’, but I’m too lazy to pull it off.

Ahem…

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
30 days ago

I specifically turn my vents so they’re not pointed directly at my face. I do keep one pointed directly at my aluminum shifter handle in the summer, however.

10001010
10001010
30 days ago

I’m probably in the minority but I cannot stand vents blowing in my face.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
30 days ago

Bet I could screw this system up by putting a photo of my face in my lap and letting the system burn itself out trying to decide which face to aim at.

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