Back in November 2019 when Ford was revealing the Mustang Mach-E, one of the surprise features that was included was a hands-free driver assist feature which a few months later was also announced for the 2021 F-150. Unfortunately, what was then called Active Drive Assist wasn’t quite ready for job 1, but since both vehicles were the first Fords to support full over-the-air software update capability, that wasn’t a problem. The hands-free system now has a new name, BlueCruise and it should be arriving sometime in the third quarter of 2021.
BlueCruise, taken from the color of the classic Ford oval badge is the first hands-free driver assist system from the Dearborn automaker and offers basically the same functionality as the original version of GM’s Super Cruise when it debuted back in late 2017. It’s geofenced using detailed maps so it can only be used on divided highways. At launch more than 100,000 miles of highway across the U.S. and Canada are approved for hands-free operation but that total will likely grow over time just as it has for Super Cruise.
The system uses cameras to detect the vehicle’s position in the lane and track it accurately while a forward radar sensor detects the distance to the vehicle ahead. Corner radar sensors also detect when vehicles are cutting into the lane more accurately than the ultrasonic sensors used by Tesla
Since this is a driver assist system, not self-driving, the human behind the wheel remains responsible and must be ready to take control at any time. To help with this there is an infrared driver monitor system to ensure that the driver is watching the road. GM uses a similar system but with only a single camera. Early versions of Super Cruise could be disabled if the sun was shining directly into the camera such as when it is rising behind the vehicle. Ford uses two sensors spread apart for greater resistance to solar interference.
When the vehicle is on an approved road and centered in the lane, the instrument cluster display will let the driver know that hands-free capability is available. When activated, the display changes to let the driver see the status as well as when they need to take the wheel.
Unlike the first generation of Super Cruise, the Mach-E and F-150 both support OTA updates so they should eventually get the features they are missing compared to the GM system. One of those is predictive curve speed control. From the beginning, Super Cruise has had the ability to automatically slow the vehicle down if it is heading into a corner at too high a speed and then resume the set speed on exit. The Ford system is slated to get that function after launch.
Also missing is the automatic lane change capability of second-generation Super Cruise and Autopilot. This function is also on the roadmap for addition, but Ford isn’t saying when. When these features are ready, they won’t require a visit to a dealer.
In order to make sure that BlueCruise was safe and reliable, Ford engineers did more than 500,000 miles of development driving on the Mach-E and F-150. Starting in November 2020, a pack of 5 F-150s and 5 Mach-Es set out on what Ford calls the mother of all road trips (MOART). The MOART took the driver team over 110,000 miles through 37 states and five Canadian provinces to verify that the system worked reliably in all sorts of conditions and on different roads.
F-150 owners that purchase the $1,595 Active 2.0 prep package can get the software OTA for another $600 anytime after it becomes available. Mach-E owners with the CA Route 1, Premium and First Edition will get BlueCruise as standard equipment when the OTA is released. Ford is targeting to have 100,000 vehicles running with BlueCruise by the end of 2021.