Ford said Thursday that by the end of next year it will offer a “hands-free” driving mode on some of its cars, including every Mustang Mach-E. With it, Ford is directly targeting the Tesla Model Y. It’s fair to say that Ford is not only trying to match Tesla’s cars, but also maybe its mistakes as well.
The details, according to Ford:
Hands-Free Mode allows drivers on certain sections of pre-mapped, divided highways to drive with their hands off the steering wheel – if they continue to pay attention to the road ahead – granting them an additional level of comfort during long drives.
An advanced infrared driver-facing camera will track eye gaze and head position to ensure drivers are paying attention to the road while in Hands-Free Mode as well as hands-on Lane Centering Mode, which works on any road with lane lines. Drivers will be notified by visual prompts on their instrument cluster when they need to return their attention to the road or resume control of the vehicle.
“Introducing Active Drive Assist with a driver-facing camera makes perfect sense because the vehicle helps relieve the stress and burden of driving but still leaves you fully in control,” said Thai-Tang. “And if you lose focus on the road ahead, Active Drive Assist will automatically warn and potentially slow the vehicle down until you’re ready to focus back up.”
Road Edge Detection can increase driving confidence in rural areas by sensing the edges of a lane with visible lines or road with a clear edge, such as grass or dirt. The technology can then alert the driver if the vehicle is starting to drift out of the lane or off the road. Blind Spot Assist identifies vehicles in a blind spot with a light on the side view mirror, and then applies a nudge in the vehicle’s steering system to help provide caution against an unsafe action.
The updated Lane-Keeping System joins Auto High-Beam Headlamps, Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert, Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking, Post-Collision Braking, Rear View Camera, Reverse Brake Assist and Reverse Sensing System as technologies on the Mustang Mach-E Ford Co-Pilot360 2.0 standard package.
On Mustang Mach-E’s standard Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist 2.0 package is an advancement in Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go, which slows down a vehicle if the traffic ahead has stopped or slowed, bringing the vehicle to a complete stop before resuming as traffic begins to move.
What’s interesting to me about this is Ford’s confidence that it has figured out “hands-free” driving, when so many other companies, Tesla included, still haven’t, even after years and years of testing and trying. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this tech all sounds great but Ford’s eagerness to proclaim that they’ve finally crossed this hurdle is a bit of a red flag.
Ford’s description of its testing regiment is also ... interesting. They call it the “Mother of All Road Trips,” which, you know, is exactly how engineers building semi-autonomous tech refer to the important work of real-world testing. (Update: I’m being told that is not what they call it.)
Ford subjected its Active Drive Assist test vehicles to the Mother of All Road Trips, exposing its sensors to snow, rain, bright sun, dark nights, traffic jams and open roads over hundreds of thousands of miles across the U.S., Canada and Europe in an attempt to expose the sensors to a variety of extremely specific scenarios – or gray areas – so the technology is as ready to handle the array of real-world conditions drivers face daily.
“Our team has aggressively tested Active Drive Assist to bring something to our customers’ lives that they can trust,” said Justin Teems, Active Drive Assist feature lead. “We go to far-flung places around the U.S. and Canada – from Florida to California, from Quebec to Texas, Wyoming and Idaho – to try to stimulate those rare-case sensor measurements we might not get anywhere else, capturing data in a number of different ways.”
Ford’s system will compete directly with Tesla’s Autopilot and with GM’s Super Cruise, but it didn’t say which vehicles it would come as an option in beyond the Mustang Mach-E. Ford also didn’t announce pricing.
It seems unavoidable, either way, that Ford will eventually get caught out. This is the same kind of issue that Tesla runs into every time there is a fatal crash, even a non-fatal crash with either Autopilot or what Tesla itself calls “fully self-driving” tech. These are terms which bely the true limitations of the tech, and that is a recipe for disaster in the hands (or not) of consumers.
I will be shocked if Ford doesn’t soon hit trouble. Every automaker in history who has come out with a splashy press release about its cool new semi-autonomous tech product certainly has.