In-Car Tech

Ford Co-Pilot360 adds hands-free driving capability, other high-tech innovations

Software monitors whether or not the driver is watching the road while the technology is employed.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology, a suite of numerous driver-assist features is adding Active Drive Assist to its roster. Active Drive Assist allows for hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in all 50 U.S. states and Canada.

"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."

Active Drive Assist is an evolution of Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering. The ability to have hands-free operation is a first for Ford. Now the company goes up against similar products from Tesla (Autopilot) and Cadillac (Super Cruise).

Ford Co-Pilot360 In the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, the technology is displayed on the driver information screen.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

According to the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, "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."

The system works to ensure that while the driver can operate the vehicle hands-free, they are paying attention to the road. An infrared driver-facing camera tracks eye gaze and head position. This technology is similar to what Subaru uses as part of its EyeSight safety and driver assistance system.

At the same time, Lane Centering Mode operates to keep the vehicle in its lane. 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."

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Ford will debut the new technology in the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford isn't the only automaker readying hands-free driving capability for the market. Volvo recently announced that such a feature will be available on the forthcoming redesigned XC90 though specifics on where that capability will be able to be used is still pending.

To perfect the technology, Ford's team took the company's Active Drive Assist test vehicles on an extensive road trip exposing its sensors to operate in snow, rain, bright sun, dark nights, traffic jams, and open roads in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The trip was designed to expose the sensors to specific scenarios that drivers face as part of daily driving in the real world.

Active Drive Assist begins rolling out on select 2021 model year Ford vehicles and will be available across the Mustang Mach-E lineup.

Those who get their Mustang Mach-E order in early will have Active Drive Assist hardware available as part of the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package at time of purchase. Ford currently plans to give customers who purchase the prep package the opportunity to purchase Active Drive Assist software and receive the feature at a Ford dealer or via an over-the-air update in the third quarter of 2021.

The Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package also includes Active Park Assist 2.0, the latest iteration of park-assist technologies. Active Park Assist 2.0 works by holding a button, which gives the vehicle permission to take control of parking in parallel and perpendicular spaces. It also offers Park Out Assist with side-sensing capability that allows drivers to navigate out of a parking spot when another vehicle has parked too close for comfort.

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New Amazon Fire TV for Auto technology is debuting in the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

Photo courtesy of Stellantis

The Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are set to be unveiled soon. Ahead of those debuts, Jeep has announced that those vehicles will be the first in the industry to integrate Amazon Fire TV for Auto.

Amazon Fire TV for Auto will give Wagoneer family occupants access to their favorite shows, movies, apps, unique vehicle features, and Alexa. It will communicate directly with the SUV's Uconnect 5 infotainment operating system. Just like in other Amazon devices, content syncs with an existing Amazon account. This means that customers will be able to pause a show in their home and seamlessly continue watching once they get into their vehicle.

"The all-new 2022 model-year Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are designed and engineered to set a new standard for American premium in the large SUV segment," said Christian Meunier, Jeep® Brand Chief Executive Officer - Stellantis. "Launching Fire TV for Auto as an industry-first technology to the Wagoneer lineup illustrates one of the many ways we intend to deliver class-leading technology and connectivity to our customers."

Amazon The screen for Amazon Fire TV for Auto looks very similar to what you'd see on a TV at your home.Photo courtesy of Stellantis

Amazon

Fire TV for Auto builds on the Fire TV experience that exists today with unique features that include:

  • Passengers can view Fire TV in high definition from the rear seats and the front passenger screen (a privacy filter disables driver viewing). When the vehicle is in park, the driver also can view Fire TV on the main Uconnect 5 screen
  • Touchscreen controls and support for compatible content can be downloaded on trips where wireless service is limited or to save on data
  • A Fire TV for Auto-specific remote provides control of the experience and includes push-to-talk access to Alexa, making it easy to find and quickly play shows
  • The remote includes a button that connects Fire TV with the new Uconnect 5 system for control of vehicle features, such as climate, maps and more

"We reimagined Fire TV for the automobile with a purpose-built experience that delivers the best in entertainment, anywhere you go," said Sandeep Gupta, Vice President and General Manager of Amazon Fire TV. "With Fire TV built in, customers can stream their favorite shows, see if they left the lights on at home with Alexa, and take advantage of unique controls through the Uconnect system."

Fire TV for Auto will be packaged with other connected services and made available in fall 2021 in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

This isn't the first time a Stellantis company has been on the cutting edge of in-vehicle tech. Jeep's stablemate, Ram, was the first to integrate SiriusXM 360L into a vehicle, its 2019 Ram 1500.

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A new level of cooperation between power companies could help string together a more viable electric vehicle charging network.

Photo by kristinapong detraphiphat/Getty Images

Chargepoint, Electrify America, and EVgo are America's biggest charging networks and each has varying success stories with installation. Even in 2021, none have prolific enough station spread to bridge the gap between stations to make electric vehicle owners as confident owners as owners of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles while on the go.

This week, six major utility companies together have announced a plan that would seamlessly connect a network of DC fast chargers to major highway systems from the Atlantic Coast through the Midwest and South, and to the Gulf of Mexico and Central Plains.

The Electric Highway Coalition is made up of American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy Corporation, Southern Co., and the Tennessee Valley Authority energy companies. They will each take the necessary steps to provide EV charging solutions within their own service territories giving EV drivers the ability to venture across their territory without service interruptions.

This is an effort that some power companies have already undertaken on their own, but with limited success. Georgia Power, the largest Southern Company subsidiary, has installed fast chargers across the Atlanta metro area.

Each utility company will select its own building sites and build its own charging stations. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that it can cost upward of $50,000 to install a single DF fast charger.

Electrify America has been on a tear, making numerous new charging station announcements over the last year. In August they announced a partnership with Love's Travel Stops to install chargers at their locations. A month before that the company completed its second cross-country EV charger route. In February 2021 Electrify America debuted new solar charging stations in California and recently they began selling home chargers via Amazon.

In September, the Edison Electric Institute forecasted that there will be 18 million EVs on US roads in 2030. A number of automakers, including Jaguar and Volvo, have made announcements saying that their lineups are headed into fully-electric territory. Other, like GM and Land Rover, have committed to offering electric vehicles alongside ICE cars and trucks.

"Throughout the ages, travelers have had to figure out how to get from point A to B. From feeding and watering horses, to filling gas tanks, and now recharging batteries, ensuring that there are convenient places to accomplish these tasks is critical," said Nicholas K. Akins, AEP's chairman, president and chief executive officer. "With this effort, we are working to help drivers see that EVs fit their lifestyle and their travel plans, wherever the road might take them."

Questions remain surrounding the strength and capability of the U.S. power grid and what impact adding millions of vehicles to the grid will have. Hurricane-prone areas of the country, like Florida, Texas, and Louisiana are often without power for weeks during the worst weather, meaning that residents of those areas would not be able to move around town due to lack of charging capability. Similarly, ice and snow storms can have devastating effects on power, as can long, hot summers and cold winters.

New to electric charging? Nissan has an etiquette guide that might help.

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