Like it or not, hands-free driving is the next big thing in automotive tech. There's Tesla's AutoPilot, General Motor's SuperCruise, and even more vendor-agnostic platforms like Comma AI's OpenPilot—the point is, leisurely driving is something that automakers know drivers are into, and new cars are about to get a lot easier to road-trip in.
On Friday, Ford announced the expansion of its Active Drive Assist (with available hands-free mode) across its platform. The first two vehicles in the Blue Oval's lineup to receive the new feature will be the 2021 Ford F-150 and the all-new, electric Mustang Mach-E.
Not all trim packages will get the new feature standard, however. Higher-level trims will have the feature as standard equipment, but those buying more base-level vehicles will need to add optional equipment to have the luxury that is Active Drive Assist.
The F-150 adds it on under the Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package (a $1,595 upgrade), whereas the Mustang Mach-E will make it available as part of the Comfort and Technology package, a whopping $3,200 upgrade which also includes things like a heated steering wheel and seats. Drivers can also pre-purchase what Ford is calling the "Prep Package," an $895 option that includes the necessary hardware without any bundling.
Ford expects the take-rate of Active Drive Assist to be quite high. In fact, it anticipates nearly 80 percent of Mustang Mach-E buyers to equip their vehicles with a trim or package that contains the Active Drive Assist feature.
There is one caveat: customers who decide to purchase the feature won't immediately have access to it. Instead, it will become available as an Over the Air (OTA) update in the third quarter of 2021. Applicable vehicles will still be pre-packaged with the hardware necessary for Active Drive Assist to function at the time of purchase, but the feature itself won't be active until the update goes live next year. Drivers who have the necessary hardware already installed can then unlock the feature with three years of service for $600.
Active Drive Assist also won't work to its full potential on every single road once it goes live. Similarly to General Motor's Super Cruise, Ford's offering will be limited to divided highways that the automaker has deemed to be Hands-Free Zones. Ford says not to worry, however, as these zones make up over 100,000 miles of road in North America today.
For other roads that still have lane markings, drivers can still use Hands-On mode which means that active lane-centering will still be enabled, but the driver will be required to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. Imagine that!
Of course, hands-free doesn't mean that you can stop paying attention to the road. Ford will equip each vehicle with a driver-facing camera that will monitor the person behind the wheel to ensure that their eyes are planted squarely on the road. That means tracking things like head position and eye gaze to gauge overall attention, and using that to determine if the system should be engaged, or if it should leave the feature disengaged to ensure safety.
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