Dearborn’s Ford Motor Co. has announced it will begin offering its BlueCruise hands-free highway driving system to customers later this year after 500,000 miles of development testing across the U.S. and Canada and related adjustments to the technology.
Last year, Ford sent 10 test vehicles — five F-150 pickups and five all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUVs — over more than 110,000 miles through 37 states and five Canadian provinces to challenge BlueCruise against a range of road, weather, and traffic conditions.
“There are highway intricacies and driving conditions that you simply cannot replicate in a lab,” says Hau Thai-Tang, chief product platform and operations officer. “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.”
BlueCruise will be offered later this year on 2021 F-150 and 2021 Mustang Mach-E models equipped with the available Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. Over-the-air updates allow owners of select Ford vehicles to update software from home.
Ford hopes to sell more than 100,000 vehicles equipped with BlueCruise in the first year, based on company sales and take-rate projections.
All 10 test vehicles — one departing from Palo Alto, Calif., and the others from Dearborn — spent much of November and December test driving. The test drivers searched for a variety of road conditions and highway driving scenarios, monitoring the system’s performance, collecting data, and highlighting where improvements can be made.
The trip marked the final leg of a development process that ran up more than 500,000 miles in a series of shorter test drives, each one designed to evaluate a specific aspect of BlueCruise. The road trip at the end enabled the system to scan for variances in road signage, lane markings, exit ramps, traffic patterns, and weather.
“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,” says Alexandra Taylor, BlueCruise feature development engineer, who logged more than 3,000 miles in an F-150 on the trek. “The one thing that became clear is that, when using BlueCruise, long drives aren’t nearly as mentally taxing to me.”
Taylor and fellow BlueCruise engineer Shruti Gotadki set out on an eight-day journey through the southeast United States, targeting driving differences between Jacksonville, Louisville, Atlanta, and other major urban areas. Justin Teems, driver-assist technology supervisor, monitored the fleet from Ford’s lab.
“It was like mission control,” Teems says. “We really wanted to push BlueCruise to its limits. Every state builds roads a little differently. When you include factors like lane line degradation, weather, and construction, building a hands-free driving system becomes extremely complex.”
The system uses advanced camera and radar-sensing technologies and builds on intelligent adaptive cruise control and stop-and-go, lane centering, and speed sign recognition. It allows a driver to operated hands-free on prequalified sections of divided highways called Hands-Free Blue Zones. A driver-facing camera in the instrument cluster monitors eye gaze and head position to help ensure the driver’s eyes remain on the road.
More than 100,000 miles of highway across North America area dedicated Hands-Free Blue Zones in the Ford GPS mapping system. BlueCruise uses text and blue lighting on the digital instrument cluster to indicate when the vehicle is in a hands-free zone.
Equipped vehicles will also have lane centering mode, which works on roads with lane lines to keep the vehicle centered in its lane but requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. In either mode, a visual prompt on the instrument cluster notifies drivers when they need to return their attention to the road or resume control of the vehicle.
Additional Ford vehicles will also receive BlueCruise hands-free driving technology as current owners receive over-the-air software updates. Future enhancements are expected to include lane change assist, in which the vehicle will change lanes with the tap of the turn signal indicator; and predictive speed assist, which will adjust the vehicle speed for road curves, roundabouts, and more.
Ford also plans to offer regular mapping updates for the technology to recognize changes plus thousands of miles of planned new road additions.
For the 2021 F-150, BlueCruise is available as part of the Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package for a total of $1,595 — $600 for the software and $995 for the hardware. The Ford Co-Pilot Active 2.0 package is standard on F-150 Limited and available as an option on Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum models.
For the 2021 Mustang Mach-E, BlueCruise comes standard on CA Route 1, Premium, and First Edition variants. It’s an available package on the Select trim for $3,200 — $600 for the software and $2,600 for the rest of the package — as part of the larger Comfort and Technology package, which includes a 360-degree camera, heated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.