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Ford's hands-free BlueCruise chases Tesla Autopilot and GM Super Cruise

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

Following the lead of Tesla Inc.'s Autopilot and General Motors Co.'s Super Cruise, Ford Motor Co. has telegraphed a semi-autonomous, active-drive-assist feature available with its 2021 Ford F-150 pickup and electric Mustang Mach-E.

Now that system has a name: BlueCruise.

Blue as in the colorful highlights in the instrument panel that indicate BlueCruise is available for hands-free driving on 100,000 miles of divided highways that Ford has mapped across North America. The feature, now available for purchase, will be activated by an over-the-air update on properly-equipped vehicles in the third quarter of this year.

While details are still emerging, the Ford system aims to play in the same space as Autopilot and Super Cruise. U.S. manufacturers have taken the lead in semi-autonomous systems with a view towards fully-autonomous, so-called Level 5, vehicles. For now, systems like BlueCruise are Level 2 grade, requiring driver attention.

Similar to GM's Super Cruise (which debuted on the now-extinct Cadillac CT6 sedan in 2018 and is available on Escalade/CT4/CT5 models and the Chevrolet Bolt EUV), BlueCruise monitors driver engagement via a camera on the steering column.

GM's Super Cruise also monitors drivers via an infrared camera on the steering column. Tesla's Autopilot, which debuted on its Model S sedan in 2015, demands the driver keep at least one hand on the steering wheel.

 

With the instrument display lit blue, Ford says the pilot can easily monitor when the system's engaged. Super Cruise uses a green light bar on the steering wheel to signal operation — if the system hits an unmapped area of road or construction zone (or if it detects the driver is distracted), it will initiate an escalation of red lights/warning sounds urging the driver to take over. Tesla's Autopilot uses a blue steering wheel icon in the center screen to indicate engagement.

Ford claims BlueCruise will work even when the driver is wearing sunglasses or a face mask, with the steering column-based camera focused on the eyes for evidence of attention.

Ford developed the system over the last few years from its Dearborn engineering and Palo Alto labs. It did extensive national testing with a fleet of five F-150s and five Mach-Es in what it calls The Mother of All Road Trips (MOART). The BlueCruise-equipped fleet covered thousands of miles over 37 states and five Canadian provinces in a variety of weather and traffic conditions.

"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 BlueCruise feature development engineer Alexandra Taylor, who logged over 3,000 miles in an F-150. "When using BlueCruise, long drives aren't nearly as mentally taxing to me."

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