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Transport

Ford to enable hands-free driving on highways in the US and Canada

by Graham Hope
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The functionality will be available on select models next year – and could prove to be safer than Tesla’s

Ford has announced an advanced driver assistance system that will allow hands-free driving on public roads across all 50 US states, as well as Canada.

The Active Drive Assist system will be available on select Ford models, including the new all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV, in the second half of 2021.

The system is part of the newly upgraded Ford Co-Pilot360 suite of driver-assist tech which is being rolled out across a number of vehicles.

A step towards autonomy

Active Drive Assist essentially adds hands-free capability to the manufacturer’s Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering tech.

On certain sections of pre-mapped, divided highways, drivers will be able to take their hands off the steering wheel, as long as they pay attention to the road ahead.

The tech is usable on more than 100,000 miles of highway across the US and Canada.

The driver is monitored by an infrared camera which tracks their eye gaze and the position of their head to ensure they are paying attention to the road.

There are visual prompts on the instrument cluster when a driver needs to return their attention to the road or resume control of the vehicle.

The tech also features the hands-on Lane Centering Mode, which works on any road with lanes and adjusts the steering if it detects the driver drifting too close to the lane markings.

Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product development and purchasing officer, explained the benefits of the technology: “The stress of long highway drives remains a huge issue for drivers around the world,” he said. “By introducing driver-assist technologies like Active Drive Assist, we’re allowing our customers to feel more confident whenever they’re behind the wheel.

“Introducing it 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. And if you lose focus on the road ahead, Active Drive Assist will automatically warn and potentially slow the vehicles down until you’re ready to focus back up.”

The tech has been tested extensively by Ford. Justin Teems, Active Drive Assist feature lead, said: “We go to far-flung places around the US 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.”

The requirement to remain focused on the road ahead differentiates Ford’s creation from other self-driving systems, such as Tesla’s Autopilot, which only requires the driver to rest their hand on the steering wheel.

Independent testing programs suggest camera-based systems are more effective at ensuring that a driver remains engaged.

The hardware for Active Drive Assist will be available for Mustang Mach-E customers as part of the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package, at the time of purchase of the car. Active Drive Assist software will then be available as an over-the-air update, or from a dealer, in the third quarter of 2021.

The Prep Package includes an upgraded parking assistance program and improved lane-keeping assistance.

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