Ford Takes Big Step Towards Autonomy With Hands-Free Assist

Technology / 3 Comments

It's like Cadillac's Super Cruise, but way more affordable.

It was back in 2016 that Ford first announced its plan to put a high-volume fully autonomous vehicle on the road by 2021. It remains to be seen whether the launch will be as grand as Ford had made it seem, but the company remains as committed as ever to the idea of autonomous driving technology, today announcing a brand new semi-autonomous system arriving next year: Active Drive Assist.

The feature will bow in the all-new 2021 Ford F-150 and 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E first, the hardware available as a reasonably-priced option on some trims, and standard equipment toward the top end of the range.

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Active Driving Assist is similar in scope and function to Cadillac's hands-free Super Cruise system, only operable on certain pre-mapped stretches of road - 100,000 miles of "Hands-Free Zone" in North America so far. But where that system was kept relatively low-volume for years, Ford is expecting to sell some 100,000 Active Drive Assist-capable vehicles their its first year on the market.

"Democratization" of autonomous driving technology is the name of the game, with Ford's Chief Product Platform and Operations Officer, Hau Thai-Tang, remarking: "As breakthroughs in new technology allow us to help reduce the stress of long highway drives, it's important to make sure these capabilities can be enjoyed by the largest spread of people possible."

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Case in point: early F-150 buyers will be able to get an Active Drive Assist prep package for $895, and the software will be priced at $600 from launch, for three years of service. That's substantially less expensive than Cadillac's Super Cruise.

Ford's Active Drive Assist builds on a lot of existing technologies, like distance-pacing cruise control with stop-and-go, active lane centering, and speed sign recognition, coupling those technologies with a driver-facing camera in the cabin to track driver attentiveness, ensuring that your eyes stay on the road even with your hands off the wheel.

It's no SAE Level-4 autonomous driving system, but as a stepping stone along the way, Ford's Active Drive Assist is an important milestone.

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