BlueCruise, Ford’s hands-free driver assistance system, will be available in 500,000 vehicles by 2024. The Level 3 system, also called conditional or unsupervised autonomy, will be available for the first time on next-generation Ford vehicles.
BlueCruise is a Level 2 system, which means that the car controls key functions such as acceleration and braking as well as centering the lane and changing lane automatically. But while drivers can take their hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals, they need to keep their eyes on the road and be ready to take control at a moment’s notice. Ford said BlueCruise-equipped vehicles have already traveled more than 50 million miles.
Ford’s Level 3 system will be available for the first time in its next-generation electric vehicles
Level 3 refers to highly automated driving, where the driver still needs to be able to take over the car on demand but can also take their eyes off the road in certain situations. Some experts have argued that L3 systems can be dangerous due to drivers’ need to remain alert even though the car is performing most of the driving tasks.
Ford is in a race to get more partially autonomous features into consumer vehicles as quickly and safely as possible. Tesla is leading the debate with its controversial experimental system, Full Autonomous Driving, which can theoretically handle local roads with traffic lights and pedestrians, but has also been criticized as a dangerous and incomplete product without adequate guardrails.
GM also has a hands-free highway feature called Super Cruise and said it will release a more advanced product called Ultra Cruise that can handle “95 percent” of driving tasks. Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and more are also working on their own L3 products.
Last year, Ford pulled out of its robotics unit, Argo AI, arguing that the L3’s autonomous features would eventually prove more profitable and less technically complex. Doug Field, the company’s vice president of electrical and software, declined to give a release date for the L3’s features during today’s event.
Ford is in a race to get more partially autonomous features into consumer vehicles as quickly and safely as possible
“As much as I want it to be, we’re not going to deliver the L3 by 2025,” Field said. “It’s just a very ambitious mission, so we’ve got to lay the groundwork. But you’ll have to wait a little bit longer for L3.”
Field described the “main use cases” for Ford’s L3 product as stop-and-go traffic and long trips where you can “take your eyes off the road” and the car will handle all the steering, acceleration and braking. Field also outlined the feature’s limitations, saying it likely wouldn’t be able to handle urban environments with stop signs and pedestrians.
“Downtown operations with pedestrians, stop signs, double and triple parked cars,” Field said. “This is the hardest possible place to get and keep an L3.”