The American car manufacturer Ford Motor is allowed to use its BlueCruise self-driving technology in the United Kingdom on a number of selected routes. The manufacturer has received a license for this from the British Ministry of Transport.
Cars equipped with Blue Cruise will be able to accelerate, brake, steer and change lanes autonomously. However, the car driver must keep his attention on the traffic at all times and must be able to intervene if problems are imminent.
Why is this important?In the United Kingdom, a route totaling 2,300 miles has now been planned on motorways in England, Scotland and Wales where Ford’s BlueCruise technology can be used. These routes will be referred to as Blue Zones. Initially, however, the use of BlueCruise will be reserved exclusively for the latest generation of the electric Ford Mustang Mach-E.
Second Level: BlueCruise belongs to the second level of self-driving technologies and can be compared to Autocar from Tesla or Super Cruise from General Motors.
- Ford’s technology has been available in North America for two years. In that time frame, more than 190,000 Ford and Lincoln vehicles have traveled more than 60 million miles in the United States and Canada with the technology.
- However, a considerable investment is required to use BlueCruise. After all, a new Mustang Mach-E costs around £50,750.
- Using BlueCruise also costs the driver £17.99 per month after a 90-day free trial.
- Ford does note that it is working with regulatory authorities to also equip a number of earlier models with BlueCruise.
- The Mustang Mach-E has a speed limit of 80 miles per hour and uses five radars to detect and track the position and speed of other vehicles on the road.
Control of car driver: However, for BlueCruise to function, the driver must be able to take control of the vehicle at any time and be fully aware of what is going on.
- For that purpose, the car’s system uses an infrared camera placed under the instrument panel that monitors the driver’s gaze and head position, even when wearing sunglasses.
- This should keep the driver’s attention on the road. He must not use his mobile phone or engage in activities that divert attention from the road.
- When the system detects signals of inattention, warning messages appear in the instrument cluster, followed by audio warnings and an activation of the brakes.
- If there is no reaction to this, the car will eventually brake completely, while maintaining control over the steering wheel.
- Such actions will also be taken if the driver does not put his hands back on the steering wheel quickly enough when leaving a Blue Zone.
Safety: While self-driving technology currently represents a niche, it is expected that by the middle of next decade 40 per cent of new cars in the UK could have such capabilities.
- In August last year, the British government said that a much wider rollout of self-driving vehicles could be expected as early as the middle of this decade.
- “The latest advanced driver assistance systems make driving smoother and easier, but they can also help make roads safer by reducing the risk of driver error,” emphasized Jesse Norman, UK Transport Secretary.
- Lisa Brankin, Ford’s managing director in Britain and Ireland, did caution that in the event of an accident, the driver is still fully liable, as the technology does not represent autonomous driving and the driver remains responsible for control.
- The specialized research agency Thatcham Research also points out that BlueCruise does not represent self-driving mobility, but does represent a next step in supporting the car driver.
- “It is unique that drivers are allowed to take their hands off the wheel for the very first time,” points out Tom Leggett, vehicle technology specialist at Thatcham. “However, the driver’s eyes must remain on the road at all times.”
- According to experts, the most advanced system that can be found on the market today is Drive Pilot from Mercedes-Benz.
- “This system allows the driver to take his hands off the wheel and concentrate on another activity, including watching videos,” the specialists say.
- “But Drive Pilot only works on some closed sites and only works at lower speeds.”
- So far, the system is only commercially available in Germany and the US state.