Ford just announced something that sounds like a massive leap forward in automotive technology, hands-free driving. This sounds like the crazy sci-fi future filled with self-driving cars we’ve all been waiting for. But you probably shouldn’t be too excited about this.
Apparently, Ford thinks the biggest problem with Tesla’s Autopilot is the fact that you have to keep your hands on the wheel. Keeping your eyes on the road and staying alert is not a problem, but damn do they hate having to rest their hand on the steering wheel.
The actual implementation of self-driving technology doesn’t matter. Because as long as the driver is ready to take over when it inevitably fails, and they don’t have to rest their hand on the wheel, they have “hands-free self-driving”. So they added a camera to track where you’re watching to replace the need for your hand on the wheel.
Available Active Drive Assist is complemented by an advanced driver-facing camera, which tracks head position and driver eye gaze, even while wearing most sunglasses
Let’s put aside for a moment the cyberpunk dystopia we live in where your car will chastise you for not acting like a model citizen. This does at least seem like a more effective safety mechanism than sensors in the steering wheel. There have been many reports of inattentive Tesla drivers crashing on Autopilot, and Ford would like to avoid that.
But the marketing of “hands-free” driving seems disingenuous. I mean, it will be possible to drive some stretches of road hands-free. But the average consumer seeing this is likely to expect a lot more.
We can’t really expect much from Ford here. They’re getting into the self-driving game a bit late, so they will be behind for a while. The Mustang Mach-E will be the first to receive these assisted driving features next year. They will be able to drive certain pre-mapped stretches of highway hands-free.
Ford Co-Pilot360™ Technology – a comprehensive collection of available driver-assist features – adds and improves offerings including Active Drive Assist, which allows for hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in all 50 states and Canada
But this isn’t the advanced self-driving we’re waiting for. This is just a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-centering on some stretches of highway. It’ll be very similar to early versions of Tesla’s highways navigation on Autopilot. Very cool for sure, but requiring regular driver intervention.
It won’t be very useful for the majority of drivers. But Tesla’s Autopilot has come a long way since the early days. Hopefully, Ford is able to improve their technology in a similar way. And maybe, if they are able to build FSD someday, this gaze tracking tech might make it a bit easier to get past regulators. But for now, Ford isn’t really bringing anything new to the self-driving world.
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