Ford has a name for its “hands-free” advanced driver assist system (ADAS): BlueCruise. The company said it would begin pushing the feature via an over-the-air software update to select 2021 Ford F-150 and 2021 Mustang Mach-E owners later this year.
According to Ford, BlueCruise will allow hands-free driving on “prequalified sections of divided highways called Hands-Free Blue Zones that make up more than 100,000 miles of North American roads.” Yes, Ford is even branding the highway.
BlueCruise is Ford’s answer to General Motors’ Super Cruise, which is considered the gold standard for Level 2 advanced driver assist systems. These systems work in concert with a number of distinct features, like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blindspot detection, pedestrian monitoring, and stop sign detection.
What makes these systems stand apart, though, is the inclusion of an active driver monitoring system in the form of an infrared sensor on the steering column that tracks the drivers’ eyes to make sure they are keeping them on the road.
Not every F-150 and Mach-E will be automatically eligible for the software update. F-150 owners who opted for the $1,595 Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package can purchase BlueCruise for an additional $600. For Mustang Mach-E owners, BlueCruise will come standard on the CA Route 1, Premium, and First Edition variants as part of the $3,200 Comfort and Technology package.
Until then, owners will have access to the second generation of Ford’s ADAS, known as Co-Pilot 360. This includes improved versions of features like lane centering, adaptive cruise control, active park assist, blindspot assist, and more.
Ford is also shifting into high marketing gear for the new feature. The company deployed 10 test vehicles — five F-150s and five Mach-Es — on a 110,000-mile road trip through 37 states and five Canadian provinces to test BlueCruise in a variety of road conditions.
“There are highway intricacies and driving conditions that you simply cannot replicate in a lab,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer, in a statement. “Sending these vehicles out for real-world driving experience is just one of many ways we ensured that BlueCruise technology offers confidence and convenience for drivers all across the continent.”
Ford said it expects to sell more than 100,000 vehicles equipped with BlueCruise in the first year, based on company sales and take-rate projections.
Car consumers are certainly attracted to more high-tech systems, especially if they can promise a safer, more stress-free driving experience. A survey conducted by Edmunds in late 2017 found that 58 percent of car shoppers would pay an extra $1,000 or more for a vehicle equipped with active safety features.
A lot depends on how these systems are marketed to customers. For example, Tesla has said Autopilot should only be used by attentive drivers with both hands on the wheel. But the feature is designed to assist drivers, not replace them. And it’s far from foolproof: there have been several high-profile incidents in which some drivers have engaged Autopilot, crashed, and died.