Ford is Adding 'Hands Free Driving' to its Co-Pilot360 Driver Assist System Next Year
The hands free driving system is called "Active Drive Assist" and will work on more than 100,000 miles of pre-mapped divided highways in the U.S. and Canada. Ford says Hands-Free Mode allows drivers to drive with their hands off the steering wheel, as long as they are paying attention to the road.
The new feature will give Ford vehicles the same autonomous driving functions as Tesla's Autopilot or the General Motors Super Cruise system available on Cadillac models.
"The stress of long highway drives remains a huge issue for drivers around the world," said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's chief product development and purchasing officer. "By introducing driver-assist technologies like Active Drive Assist, Ford's version of hands-free driving, we're allowing our customers to feel more confident whenever they're behind the wheel."
The system includes an advanced infrared driver-facing camera that tracks eye gaze and head position to ensure drivers are paying attention to the road while operating Hands-Free Mode. The system even works if the driver is wearing sunglasses.
If drivers are not focused on the road, the system displays visual prompts on the instrument cluster, altering the driver 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."
The hands-free "Active Drive Assist" will debut on select 2021 Ford models, including the upcoming Mach-E fully-electric SUV, as long as customers purchase the optional "Active 2.0 Prep Package" which adds cameras and radar to the vehicle.
Ford vehicles equipped with the Active 2.0 Prep Package allows customers the opportunity to add the Active Driver Assist feature via an OTA update, since all of the required hardware will be pre-installed in the vehicle.
Ford did not disclose what the semi-autonomous option will cost.
Ford said its engineers and test drivers have thoroughly tested the new safety features, accumulating more than 650,000 miles of tests to ensure that the radar and camera-based features work in as many real-world scenarios as possible.
Ford's Co-Pilot360 is an advanced suite of driver-assist and safety features available in 2019 and later models sold in North America. The technologies include automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, blind spot information system, lane keeping system, a rear backup camera and auto high beam lighting.
Customers can also add more premium driver-assist technologies as add-ons, including adaptive cruise control, which matches the flow of stop and go traffic, lane keep assist, as well as evasive steering assist, which helps a driver make emergency steering maneuvers more safely.
Ford's Lane keep assist notifies drivers with steering wheel vibrations when the system detects the vehicle drifting outside of the lane towards the lane markers and provides gentle steering torque to guide the vehicle back toward the center portion of the lane.
In 2019, Ford added reverse brake assist to its Co-Pilot360, to further assist drivers while in reverse, by automatically applying the brakes if an object is detected behind the vehicle.
Ford is investing $500 million the next five years to develop new driver-assist and safety technologies, with a focus on simplifying the technologies so they work as people expect. The goal is to make people more comfortable with autonomous vehicles.
"Many people question the idea of autonomous vehicles," said Jim Farley, Ford president, Global Markets.
"Those who use advanced driver-assist technologies today say they are more open to cars doing all of the driving in the future."
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