At the FAA drone symposium this week, one panelist was not like the others: Ford. Despite being the (not-so-young) kid that stuck out, it’s not entirely surprising. Along with other automobile manufacturers like Porsche and Audi, automakers are taking up the flag for autonomous vehicles.

But unlike Porsche, Ford are not in the business of developing drones, they are in the business of tracking them.

Working with the FAA since last year, they have suggested a deceptively simple method that could be far cheaper and easier to implement than high-tech solutions like the 4G IoT network being developed by Nokia in Europe, which could require retrofitting SIMs into every commercial drone out there.

Instead, Ford intends to use an existing feature already present in most drones – that is, the anti-collision lights that are built in to improve lowlight visibility. Ford says the patent-pending system would require drones to flash their ID number  – or a 10-digit code given out by the FAA upon registration – as a series of colours and blinks. Using Google’s TensorFlow, a proprietary app would decipher the communication, enabling the public to identify and report misbehaving UAVs.