On the heels of a series of long road trips that crisscrossed the U.S. and Canada, Ford is ready to launch during the third quarter of 2021 a hands free-driving system dubbed BlueCruise on two of its most prominent vehicles, the Mustang Mach-E BEV and the F-150 pickup.
The road trips followed more than 500,000 miles (805,000 km) of development testing, according to Michael Kane, the Ford engineer responsible for the team that conducted the tests that covered a variety of divided highways from sunny California to wintry freeways in the Midwest.
“This was a very aggressive test. We wanted to push BlueCruise to the limit,” he says during a briefing on the system.
Kane says Ford deployed a fleet of 10 test vehicles – five F-150 pickups and five Mach-E CUVs – to complete what test drivers dubbed the “Mother of All Road Trips,” covering more than 110,000 miles (177,100 km) through 37 states and five Canadian provinces.
“There are highway intricacies and driving conditions that you simply cannot replicate in a lab,” says Hau Thai-Tang, Ford 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.”
Ford officials describe BlueCruise as an SAE Level 2 driver-assist technology, similar to Tesla’s Autopilot but with the advantage of offering a true Hands-Free Mode that does not require a driver’s hands to stay in contact with the steering wheel unless prompted by vehicle alerts.
Unlike in other systems – such as GM’s Super Cruise, which uses red and green lighting, or Tesla’s, which requires that a driver keep their hands on the steering wheel – BlueCruise communicates with drivers in different ways.
The instrument cluster transitions to communicate that the feature is in Hands-Free mode through text and blue lighting cues – hence the name – which is effective even for those with color blindness or in very bright sunlight, Kane notes.
Factors such as lane line degradation, weather and construction make building a hands-free driving system extremely complex, he says. “Every state builds roads a little differently.”
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, Kane says. The feature allows a driver to operate truly hands-free on prequalified sections of divided highways called “Blue Zones” by Ford.
Currently, more than 100,000 miles (161,000 km) of North American highways are recognized as hands-free “Blue Zones” in the Ford GPS mapping system. BlueCruise uses the blue lighting on the digital instrument cluster to indicate when the vehicle is in a hands-free zone.
In addition to the full hands-free mode, equipped vehicles will feature lane centering mode. Lane centering works on most roads with lane lines and can keep the vehicle centered in its lane but requires drivers to keep hands on the 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.
BlueCruise will be offered on ’21 F-150 and ’21 Mustang Mach-E models equipped with the available Ford Co-Pilot 360Active 2.0 Prep Package through over-the-air software updates, says
Karen Sullivan, marketing manager for Ford Co-Pilot 360. The software upgrade (and three-year service contract) will be available for $600 in second-half 2021 – hardware pricing varies by vehicle. Ford plans to sell more than 100,000 vehicles equipped with BlueCruise in the first year, based on company sales and take-rate projections, Sullivan says.
For F-150 (pictured, above), BlueCruise is available for $1,595, which includes the $600 software charge and $995 for the hardware. The package is standard on the F-150 Limited and is available as an option on Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models.
For Mustang Mach-E (pictured, below), BlueCruise comes standard on CA Route 1, Premium and First Edition variants. It is an available package on the Select trim for $3,200 (also including $600 software charge) as part of the larger Comfort and Technology package, which includes features such as a 360-degree camera, heated front seats and heated steering wheel.
Beyond the F-150 and Mustang Mach-E, additional Ford vehicles will receive BlueCruise technology, while current owners will continue receiving over-the-air software updates to add new features and capabilities in coming years.
Future planned enhancements include lane change assist, which will let the vehicle change lanes with a tap of the turn signal indicator, and predictive speed assist, which will adjust vehicle speed for road curves, roundabouts and more.
Ford also plans to offer regular mapping updates for the technology to recognize changes, as well as thousands of miles of planned new road additions, Ford representatives say.