Ford's hands-free driving tech is coming to F-150, Mustang Mach-E later this year
Blue Oval's engineers traveled over 500,000 miles during technology development testing and fine-tuning the technology on a journey across the United States and Canada. That culminated with what Ford internals called the "Mother of All Road Trips", a 110,000-mile trek through 37 states and five Canadian provinces.
"There are highway intricacies and driving conditions that you simply cannot replicate in a lab," said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product platform and operations officer. "Sending these vehicles out for real-world driving experience is just one of many ways we ensured that BlueCruise technology offers confidence and convenience for drivers all across the continent."
The Mustang Mach-E will be one of the first electric vehicles to feature hands-free driving tech in the U.S.
Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company
Technology testing provided real work validation of earlier laboratory testing including functionalities that scan the road for road signage, exit ramps, traffic patterns, and weather.
"I drive long-distance quite often, whether out to Boston or down to Florida to visit family or friends, and usually I mentally tire out on drives that far," said Alexandra Taylor, BlueCruise feature development engineer, who logged more than 3,000 miles in an F-150 on the trek. "The one thing that became clear is that, when using BlueCruise, long drives aren't nearly as mentally taxing to me."
Back at the Ford lab, driver-assist technology supervisor Justin Teems monitored the progress of the entire fleet, gathering data that will help shape the BlueCruise driving experience now and in the future.
"It was like mission control," Teems said. "We really wanted to push BlueCruise to its limits. Every state builds roads a little differently. When you include factors like lane line degradation, weather and construction, building a hands-free driving system becomes extremely complex. Those complexities are why Ford has the best team of engineers in the world working on it."
BlueCruise builds on the advanced camera and radar-sensing technologies that are available with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane centering, and traffic sign recognition, which are part of the Ford Co-Pilot360 suite of technology.
A new lane centering mode acts just as one would guess it does by its name,. This technology is used in BlueCxuise, but not exclusive to it. Lane centering tech requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all time.
The new Ford advanced driver assist system allows a driver to operate their vehicle truly hands free on prequalified sections of divided highways called Hands-Free Blue Zones. This is similar to the types of roadways that General Motors’ Super Cruise operates on.
As with Super Cruise, a driver-facing camera watches eye gaze and head position making sure that the driver keeps their focus on the road.
Currently, more than 100,000 miles of highways across North America are dedicated Hands-Free Blue Zones in the Ford GPS mapping system. BlueCruise uses blue lighting on the digital instrument cluster to indicate when the vehicle is in a hands-free zone.
Ford's BlueCruise technology works in areas called "Blue Zones". Here they are shown on a map.
Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company
BlueCruise is an SAE Level 2 driver-assist technology, similar to Tesla Autopilot but with the advantage of offering a true hands-free driving experience while in Hands-Free Mode that does not require a driver's hands to stay in contact with the steering wheel, unless prompted by vehicle alerts.
Ford is quick to point out that BlueCruise is color blindness friendly, using text and blue lighting cues to communicate with drivers rather than the red and green colors that are utilized by Super Cruise and Tesla's Autopilot.
Later this year, properly equipped versions of the Ford F-150 and Mustang Mach-E will receive over-the-air BlueCruise technology updates. New features and capabilities will be added similarly in the coming years.
Ford expects to roll out the tech to addition models from 2021.
2021 F-150 and 2021 Mustang Mach-E customers will be able to purchase BlueCruise software – including a three-year service period – for $600 in the second half of 2021, when it's ready to launch. Hardware pricing varies by vehicle.
For F-150, BlueCruise is available as a part of the Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package for a total of $1,595 – $600 for the software and $995 for the hardware. The Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package is standard on F-150 Limited and available as an option on Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models.
For Mustang Mach-E, BlueCruise comes standard on CA Route 1, Premium and First Edition variants. It's an available package on the Select trim for $3,200 – $ 600 for the software and $2,600 for the rest of the package – as part of the larger Comfort and Technology package, which includes features such as a 360-degree camera, heated front seats and heated steering wheel