BlueCruise, the new Ford autonomous driving technology, promises to position Ford right in the middle of the hands-free driving conversation.
BlueCruise, the new Ford autonomous driving system, puts the Blue Oval squarely in the hands-free driving conversation with Tesla’s AutoPilot and GM’s SuperCruise. While BlueCruise overlaps with its competitors in some areas, it also offers some unique aspects.
It’s worth noting that, contrary to how these systems sound, none of them offer truly autonomous driving. In all three cases, the Society of Automotive Engineers classifies the tech as Level 2, meaning drivers need to be engaged at all times and ready to resume control immediately.
Developed via a half-million miles of controlled testing and a final, 100,000-mile “Mother of all Road Trips” test, BlueCruise is expected to launch in the second half of this year. Currently, it is only available on 2021 Ford F-150s and the new Mustang Mach-E. Buyers that check the box for the Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 Prep Package today can then upload the BlueCruise software via an Over-The-Air (OTA) update later this year.
The BlueCruise hardware package costs $995 on the F-150 and $2600 on the Mach-E, while the software is $600 in both cases. This includes 3 years of service, after which a subscription will be required. GM’s SuperCruise is currently available only in the Cadillac brand lineup and requires the driver assistance package plus $2500 for the software. Tesla, on the other hand, includes AutoPilot on all their vehicles. However, the more advanced Full Self-Driving capability is a $10,000 option.
The Ford autonomous driving program began with their Co-Pilot suite of driver aids and BlueCruise builds on this. It marries adaptive cruise control, lane centering assist, and speed limit sign recognition with road details from a network of vehicle cameras, radar sensors, and a proprietary GPS database. This allows an equipped vehicle to identify when it’s traveling in what Ford designates an approved “BlueZone”.
At the moment, Ford has mapped 100,000 miles of North American highways for these zones and only allows BlueCruise to be activated inside of them. SuperCruise from GM operates in a similar fashion, but has data on over 200,000 miles of roadways to date. Tesla deviates here and allows drivers to activate AutoPilot on any road, at any time. They rely on road data uploaded to their cloud via other Teslas that have previously driven the road.
A key distinction for BlueCruise is the ability of a driver to completely remove their hands from the steering wheel while activated. Tesla’s AutoPilot requires hand contact at all times. While engaged, a driver-monitoring camera keeps track of the driver’s eye gaze and head position to watch for inattention or drowsiness. The system will audibly warn drivers if it detects a problem and cease operation shortly after if there is no response. GM utilizes a similar camera-based, driver attention system while Tesla does not.
Ford’s autonomous driving system relies on visual and text based information within the digital gauge cluster to communicate with drivers during BlueCruise operation. This is in contrast with Cadillac’s SuperCruise, which has lighting embedded up high on the steering wheel. Green lights mean SuperCruise is in control and blue means it is engaged but the driver is in control. Red lights mean SuperCruise is about to shut off and the driver needs to take over immediately.
Future enhancements to BlueCruise will include automated lane changes and predictive speed assistance that will adjust vehicle speed for curves and roundabouts. Tesla currently offers automated lane changing and the Full Self-Driving feature is already testing navigation of highway on- and off-ramps. That last piece, autonomous handling of freeway ramps is an especially complex maneuver. It is something not currently on offer from the Ford or General Motors.
Though buyers interested in this Ford autonomous driving tech need to currently buy a hardware package and wait for an OTA update to enable the technology, Ford will eventually install the entire system at the factory. They are also expected to roll BlueCruise out in additional models over time. Ford is anticipating sales of over 100,000 vehicles equipped with their new tech in the first year after launch.