You have to give automakers like Ford, General Motors, and Tesla a round of applause for their "stick-to-ative-ness" efforts to push hands-free driving. More commonly known as autonomous mode driving, automakers are working to convince their customers and the world at large that it is a good thing.
Jury Is Out On Acceptance
Indeed, not only is the jury still out on whether the driving public wants hands-free driving, but it is also way too early in this cycle to say whether the public, at large, supports hands-free driving. No one knows whether the public wants it, though assuredly, the auto industry wants to make this a feature that "you just can't live without."
Many people support hands-free driving; however, they seem to be the minority of the country's drivers. Others, who may or may not support it, have vehicles that are too old to support it. Pointedly, hands-free driving software is limited to current vehicles equipped to handle it.
Realize, though, that the people supporting hands-free driving are owners or drivers of Ford's Mustang Mach-E of its F-150 pickup lineup. These vehicles are controlled by their automotive computers and their software. In many ways, having the ability to update software in millions of vehicles in its fleet instantly is an excellent feature for Ford. It's easy for Ford to roll out updates via over-the-air software notifications.
Autonomous Mode Discussed A Decade Ago
Still, the jury is out on autonomous mode (hands-free) driving even almost 10 years after it was first discussed and offered in a limited manner in some vehicles. Some in the automotive world still question whether it is a product in search of an audience. In contrast, others, who are more accepting, wonder if there are enough guardrails around it to ensure the safety of drivers on the roads of the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened investigations into one of the leading advocates of autonomous mode driving, Tesla. The probes look at the number of fatalities and injuries caused when Tesla vehicles are in hands-free or autonomous mode. And while there are no results, it certainly doesn't seem very positive for the automaker.
In its push to get its AutoPilot software suite out and active in its fleet, it seems as if they are pushing the owners of their vehicles to set their Teslas to hands-free mode and then leave it at that. Indeed, in some fatality probes, there have been reports from other drivers who have seen Teslas whipping past them with their owners sleeping or reading the paper just before fatal accidents have occurred.
Maybe Tesla and others should look at how Ford is rolling out its BlueCruise hands-free product and use it as a template. As Ford has said, its BlueCruise software suite has rolled up millions of miles of hands-free driving on the roadways of America today. The package is available on F-150 pickups and in its Mustang Mach-E electric. The software was launched a year ago.
And now, Ford Power-Up software updates are bringing BlueCruise to even more customers who bought vehicles before the technology launched. Nearly 15,000 2021 F-150 and Mustang Mach-E customers have completed the BlueCruise software updates, with another 35,000 in process. This adds to customers who bought vehicles with BlueCruise equipped at the factory, totaling about 66,500 customers enjoying hands-free highway driving.
Ford’s Digital Fleet Increasing
"We are rapidly increasing the number of digital vehicles on the road with new services that create 'always-on' customer relationships with great software experiences," said CEO Jim Farley. "BlueCruise is a great example as customers have driven more than 10 million miles hands-free in just one year since we launched the capability and delivered it with a Ford Power-Up software update."
BlueCruise caps the first year of Ford Power-Up software updates, demonstrating the transformative capability to improve many computer-controlled vehicle systems to improve vehicles and deepen relationships with customers regularly. Ford is using the anonymous data insights customers voluntarily share to make BlueCruise even better by refining visuals, sensing, and steering for more natural performance.
The pace of BlueCruise hands-free highway driving is accelerating as customers more than doubled mileage from last month alone – from 4.5 million miles to 10.6 million miles. This is another example of Ford bringing innovations to every driver.
BlueCruise Data Shows Roads Where Use
Recent BlueCruise data shows customers drive hands-free on highways, most between Dallas and Houston, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, and Cape Canaveral and Ft. Lauderdale.
"Ford Power-Up technology is the gift that keeps giving. Ford BlueCruise software updates are a powerful example of this. One day you're driving normally and the next hands-free," said Farid Abdulhadi, program manager, Ford Power-Up Technology. "Ford is helping lead the mainstream adoption of advanced software update capability, similar to how smartphones changed the world of flip phones."
The BlueCruise software update highlights new features and enhancements – including Mustang Mach-E games, EV charging, driving upgrades, and F-150 productivity features – that Ford has delivered in the first year since launching the technology.
Technology Comes With A Warning
It is technology delivered with warnings from Ford. Here's the automaker's warning:
"Driver-assist features are supplemental and do not replace the driver's attention, judgment, and need to control the vehicle. Ford BlueCruise is a hands-free highway driving feature." The automaker continues that drivers can "only remove hands from the steering wheel when in a Hands-Free Blue Zone." Further, Ford says drivers must "always watch the road and be prepared to resume control of the vehicle. It does not replace safe driving."
Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent the usual number of misspent hours hanging out at gas stations Shell and Texaco (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper, "You Auto Know," an enterprise I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my living while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, etc. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.