Ford's BlueCruise (and the GM Controversy), Explained

Ford will begin offering its new BlueCruise hands-free highway driving system to customers later this year after 500,000 miles of development testing and fine-tuning the technology on a journey across the United States and Canada. (Ford)

As the world moves closer to fully autonomous vehicles, several automakers are equipping their cars with advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) to ease drivers toward that transition. The latest player in this space is Ford, whose BlueCruise technology joins GM's Super Cruise and Tesla's Autopilot with Self-Driving Capability to offer hands-free driver assistance.

Ford's BlueCruise technology works by coupling the automaker's adaptive cruise control system with its lane-centering system. The result is a system that enables hands-free driving with a few caveats.

First, BlueCruise is geofenced, meaning it is only available on divided highways. These highways, or "Hands-Free Blue Zones," as Ford calls them, are pre-qualified by the manufacturer. There are 100,000 miles of such highways across the United States and Canada.

Second, BlueCruise requires the driver to keep their eyes on the road during operation. Tracked by a driver-facing camera in the instrument panel, the system monitors eye gaze and head placement to ensure that the driver pays attention.

Lastly, the system may occasionally prompt the driver to put their hands on the steering wheel when additional security is required.

The system works by prompting the driver as they enter a Hands-Free Blue Zone, indicated on the vehicle's digital dashboard. Once the system is operational, the instrument cluster turns blue to show it has entered hands-free mode. According to Ford, blue lighting is effective "even for those with color blindness."

BlueCruise will be available later this year on select 2021 F-150 and Mustang Mach-E models. Owners can access the technology via over-the-air (OTA) updates from home or wherever they have internet access. The system will become available to other Ford vehicles soon.

BlueCruise, like GM's SuperCruise and Tesla's Autopilot, is not a fully self-driving system. Instead, it is considered a Level 2 technology as classified by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). This is explained as Partial Driving Automation, whereas full self-driving is not characterized until the system reaches Level 4 (High Driving Automation) or Level 5 (Full Driving Automation).

Like GM and Tesla, Ford expects BlueCruise to receive OTA updates for additional driver-assistance capabilities in the future. Other manufacturers are approaching the race toward autonomy from a different angle. Volvo, for instance, is offering the new version of its flagship XC90 SUV with LiDAR sensors. Its hands-free feature, dubbed "Highway Pilot," will be available in 2022 and, according to the manufacturer, will eventually enable full self-driving.

Earlier this month, General Motors (GM) filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Ford in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, CA. GM, whose driverless car division is named Cruise, claims that Ford intentionally borrowed their naming convention. In the suit, GM claims that if Ford "wanted to adopt a new, unique brand, it easily could have done so without using the word 'Cruise.'"

Ford countered that the term "cruise" is known for its "ubiquitous use" when referring to ADAS technologies. Ford announced the system's naming in the spring of 2021 as an evolution of the Ford Co-Pilot360 system.

After GM filed its suit, Ford filed a petition at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel GM's trademark of "Super Cruise." No word yet on whether GM will be able to stop Ford's use of the word "Cruise" in its technology. What is clear, however, is that the race toward autonomy is heating up.

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