Could Ford’s New Patent Be Their Secret Weapon for Electric Overlanding?

This patent could alleviate range anxiety when taking an EV off the grid.

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The clever folks over at Ford patent a lot of ideas. Some are cool and potentially revolutionary; others are just downright weird. But a new Ford patent application for inflatable solar panels that unforld from a vehicle’s roof could be a game-changer for passenger EVs — especially anyone using their electric SUV or truck for overlanding.

The patent shows an inflatable, retractable solar-powered cover deploying around a parked vehicle. It’s no secret that automakers want to use solar power; after all, it’s free energy, either to run the accessories on a gas-powered car or to feed juice into the battery of an EV. But finding enough surface area for solar panels to generate a useful amount of power is a challenge. (The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, for instance, uses a solar-powered roof…but that roof can only produce about two miles of EV range per day at best.) Ford’s idea for deploying solar panels in a shield around the car, however, would increase the surface area available for panels — and, consequently, the amount of electricity solar tech could generate for the vehicle.

Such technology would have numerous applications. Commuters could charge their cars in parking lots while they’re in the office, or at a football game. It would make EVs more sensible for city-dwellers who don’t have regular home plug access.

Ford’s idea could also be a crucial technology for electric vehicle overlanding. Range anxiety will be particularly acute when you’re in the wilderness in an electric vehicle, and it’s sure to be always on your mind when you’re using the EV battery as an auxiliary power source for camping and cooking. A smooth and potent solar charging apparatus like this one could offer extra range and peace of mind.

Don’t get too excited, though, as we’re likely a long way off from a technological and cost perspective for it being practical and helpful for vehicles to have their own solar panel arrays. Still, Ford’s patent reminds us that automakers are never short of interesting ideas to potentially improve the lives of tomorrow’s drivers.

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