Hands-free driving system for 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E arriving next year

If the Mustang Mach-E is driving Ford into the future, the all-electric crossover may not require anyone to have their hands on the wheel.

On Thursday, Ford detailed its hands-free driver-assist features that will be available on the Mach-E and upcoming vehicles from the Blue Oval.

Dubbed Active Drive Assist, the advanced system can let drivers take their hands off the wheel for indefinite periods of time, similar to crosstown rival General Motors’ Super Cruise system.

Similar to Super Cruise, Ford’s system is based in part on a driver-facing camera that uses infrared systems to determine where the driver’s eyes may be focused. The infrared cameras can penetrate sunglasses and even determine focus if the driver is wearing a mask, according to Ford engineers. The system would largely fall into the Level 2 category for driver-assistance/self-driving features, and defaults to the driver to take over control if necessary. Ford engineers say their system is smoother than competitors when drivers correct the software, but didn’t detail how the car would stop and react in an emergency.

The hands-free system is limited to divided highways that are mapped by Ford, which so far cover roughly 100,000 miles of highway nationwide. Ford didn’t say if it would map more highways as the system expands, or where those highways are. 

The system will make its debut on the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E first, but almost certainly will appear in upcoming cars such as the F-150 and Explorer. Ford didn’t say how much the system would cost but did say that Mach-E owners would first need to buy requisite hardware (driver-facing camera, radar sensors) from the factory and then need to pay for the driver-assistance software. That software will be delivered via over-the-air updates to the Mach-E sometime in the second half of 2021, according to Ford.

A spokeswoman for Ford didn’t say if the software would be a one-time purchase or a recurring subscription.

The hands-free system is part of the automaker’s second generation of its active safety suite, which is called Co-Pilot 360. The system includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, automatic high beams, reverse automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic warnings. The system also includes an updated road detection sensor that reads lane markings or clearly defined edges of road—such as rural roads next to dirt or grass—and helps keep the car on the roadway.

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