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Ford announces ‘Hands-Free’ mode with driver-facing camera for Mustang Mach-E

The auto industry’s shift to electric vehicles and driver-assist technology go hand in hand. Recognizing these combined trends, Ford will use its all-electric Mach-E SUV as the first vehicle with Ford Co-Pilot 360 2.0. The main innovation is the system’s use of a driver-facing camera for enhanced safety.

Mustang Mach-E drivers will be able to purchase the Active Drive Assist hardware when they buy the car. It’s part of a “prep package.” But it’s not until Q3 2021 that those Mach-E owners can purchase and activate the new ADAS features via an over-the-air update or at a Ford dealership.

The main benefit of the new package is hands-free driving. However, that will be limited to about 100,000 miles of divided highways across North America. In a press release, Ford explained:

Hands-Free Mode allows drivers on certain sections of pre-mapped, divided highways to drive with their hands off the steering wheel — if they continue to pay attention to the road ahead — granting them an additional level of comfort during long drives.

An advanced infrared driver-facing camera will track eye gaze and head position to ensure drivers are paying attention to the road while in Hands-Free Mode as well as hands-on Lane Centering Mode, which works on any road with lane lines. Drivers will be notified by visual prompts on their instrument cluster when they need to return their attention to the road or resume control of the vehicle.

The interface will use an animation of a steering wheel with the driver’s hands, and a graphic of a protective bubble surrounding the car.

Ford trumpeted two enhancements that come with the Mach-E’s Co-Pilot 360 2.0 standard package: Road Edge Detection and Blind Spot Assist. Road Edge Detection can improve sensing the edges of a lane and alert the driver if the vehicle is drifting. Blind Spot Assist identifies uses light on the side-view mirror, and then applies a nudge on the steering wheel if necessary.

Here’s Ford’s illustration of how Road Edge Detection works:

Electrek’s Take

Those capabilities sound similar to GM’s SuperCruise, which was released two years ago. Ford is late to the game.

The only new hardware is the driver-facing camera — which gets added to an existing front-facing camera, front radar, and corner radars. Ford executives also emphasized the use of an “immersive digital cluster” to notify drivers when hands-off driving was available or when to take back control.

Based on my experiences in SuperCruise, on many roadways, it’s better to drive as normal. Otherwise, it’s more disconcerting and uncomfortable to experience the on-again, off-again transitions.

If Ford’s new system sounds underwhelming, it’s because the company is taking a conservative approach. Chris Billman, Ford’s Global ADAS customer experience manager, said this in a veiled critique of Tesla’s AutoPilot system:

We carefully select the names for our features. We make them intuitive. We don’t over-promise or imply that the features can do more than they can.

In a more direct competitive move, Ford offered this questionable chart that compared Ford’s Co-Pilot to Tesla’s AutoPilot:

Ford conveniently doesn’t mention what Tesla has but is not available with the Mach-E. The list of those AutoPilot features includes stopping at stop signs/lights and handling on- and off-ramps.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.