It seems like every other week that a car company unveils some sort of driver-assistance functionality, but let it be clear—hands-free driving is a big deal. That's part of why General Motors' Super Cruise is lauded amongst industry critics and consumers alike. Of course, it's high time for Ford to roll out its own competitor, and the Blue Oval is doing so this fall with a suite it calls BlueCruise. It'll be available initially as an upgrade to existing Mustang Mach-E and F-150 owners, and certain models produced later in the year will come from the factory with the software baked in.
BlueCruise is an evolution of Ford's Co-Pilot360, adding to features like adaptive cruise control with intelligent stop and go, lane-centering, and speed sign recognition. Mach-E and F-150 drivers will have more than 100,000 miles of highway where they can take their hands off the wheel and let their Ford do the driving. These are called Hands-Free Blue Zones, and they've already been scouted by Ford's GPS mapping system. When the vehicles drive into one of these zones, a blue light will illuminate on the instrument cluster and the driver information screen will show it's ready and able to take the reins.
BlueCruise makes use of advanced cameras and radar-sensing to adapt to ever-changing road conditions. Ford points out that it's an SAE Level 2 system similar to Tesla's Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise, though the former doesn't allow hands-free driving. Regardless, BlueCruise can negotiate curves on qualified interstates and adjust speed to maintain a steady distance between the vehicle and those in front of it.
Features like Lane Change Assist are apparently launching at a later time, in which case Ford says owners will be able to receive the updates over the air. This will allow drivers to command a change or passing maneuver by simply engaging the blinker. Another luxury, Predictive Speed Assist, will be released down the line and anticipate turns in the road, slowing the vehicle to make for a smoother, more natural ride.
As many more miles of highway are approved to become Hands-Free Blue Zones, over-the-air updates will also be made available to owners so they can expand their vehicles' capabilities from their garage.
Ford engineers have already tested BlueCruise extensively—think half a million miles and then some. The latest round of development came after 10 vehicles, including five Mach-E Mustangs and five F-150s, traveled more than 110,000 miles across 37 states and five Canadian provinces. Ford touted this as the "Mother of All Road Trips" in a press release, and it's seemingly good proof that BlueCruise works as they say it should.
Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's chief product platform and operations officer, mentioned these tests were done because there are situations you "simply cannot replicate in a lab." As we've seen before with early Level 2 ADAS suites, he's right, and it boils down to more than fancy tech that's cool to talk about online. It has to do with reducing driver fatigue, which BlueCruise also keeps an eye on with driver-facing cameras to monitor eye-gaze and head position.
"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,” explained Alexandra Taylor, BlueCruise feature development engineer. “The one thing that became clear is that, when using BlueCruise, long drives aren't nearly as mentally taxing to me."
Now, in order to add BlueCruise to a vehicle, a few items have to be in place. F-150s, for example, must be equipped with the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 package. That comes standard on the Limited trim and is an option for Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum models at $995. The software, then, is a $600 add-on, bringing the total to $1,595 for F-150 owners to access BlueCruise.
As for the Mach-E, BlueCruise will be standard on CA Route 1, Premium, and First Edition variants with an over-the-air update coming to current owners in the fall. If you want it on a Select trim, you'll need to pay the $600 software fee and tick the box for Ford's $2,600 Comfort and Technology package, which also includes a 360-degree camera, heated seats, and a heated steering wheel.
All this will buy you a three-year service period for BlueCruise, and after that, a monthly or annual subscription will likely be required. Don't you just love that?
Ford predicts it'll sell 100,000 vehicles equipped with BlueCruise in the technology's first full year, based on "company sales and take-rate projections."
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