Ford Gets in the ‘Hands-Free’ Game with BlueCruise

Hands-free driver-assist available later this year for Mustang Mach-E and F-150 pickup.

The BlueCruise driver-assist enables hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in North America. (Ford)

There's a whole lot about Ford's hands-free driving technology that the automaker isn't revealing just yet. But at least it now has a name – BlueCruise – and some preliminary pricing details. As a SAE Level 2 driver-assist technology, BlueCruise is the next step from Ford’s Co-Pilot360 technology that was announced last year and launched on two of the company’s highest-profile models: the Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle (EV) and the 2021 F-150.

Hands-off driving in the 2021 F-150 pickup, one of two models to be available with SuperCruise sometime in the third quarter of 2021. (Ford)

With BlueCruise, Co-Pilot360 will support hands-free driving, Ford’s first foray into this next level of assisted driving. For owners who already have one of these “properly equipped” vehicles – which means there’s a driver-facing camera installed – BlueCruse will be available as an over-the-air (OTA) update sometime in the third quarter of this year.

The cost of BlueCruise varies by model. The first thing to note is that there are two components to the product: a hardware prep kit and the OTA software, which includes a subscription fee. The “prep kit” amounts to the installation of a driver-facing camera when the vehicle is built; there’s no way to retrofit a model with the necessary camera, Ford said.

Indicator of readiness for BlueCruise operation in the Mustang Mach-E. (Ford)

The camera and radar sensors BlueCruise requires already are built into both the F-150 and the Mach-E. When ordering an F-150, buyers who want BlueCruise order the $1,595 Ford Co-Pilot 360 Active 2.0 package, which breaks down into $995 for the prep kit and $600 for the software. The package is standard on the F-150 Limited trim and is available for the Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum trims.

BlueCruise in the Mustang Mach-E costs $3,200, which includes the same $600 for the software, as well as $2,600 prep kit. The prep kit costs more in the electric Mustang since it comes bundled with additional content like a 360-degree camera, a heated steering wheel and heated seats. BlueCruise is standard on the CA Route 1, Premium and First Edition trims of the Mach-E and is an available package for the Select trim.

Subscription model?

The $600 cost for the software allows owners to use BlueCruise for three years. Ford is not saying how much it will charge BlueCruise buyers to use the system after the initial 36-month period. Ford also is not yet detailing other models that will offer BlueCruise, just that the technology will expand through the automaker’s lineup in the future – and that OTA updates will add new capabilities to BlueCruise in the coming years.

More than 100,000 miles of roads qualify as Blue Zones in which BlueCruise is operable. (Ford)

These include lane-change assist, which engages when the driver activates the turn signal, and predictive speed assist, which can reduce the vehicle's speed when approaching curves, roundabouts or other areas where it’s appropriate to slow from the set cruising speed. Ford hopes to sell more than 100,000 vehicles with BlueCruise in the first year the technology is available.

Where it works, how it works

Hands-free driving using BlueCruise will not work everywhere. As with General Motors’ Super Cruise, Ford has specific highways – more than 100,000 miles worth – of what it calls Hands-Free Blue Zones in the U.S. and Canada. These are sections of divided highways that the company has pre-qualified as compatible with the technology.

If not driving on a BlueCruise-certified highway, the system nonetheless can provide lane-centering driver assistance, Ford said. The automaker did not detail how it qualified the initial Blue Zone highways – or what happens if there is construction or other changes to the road, but a spokesperson said more information about the company’s mapping strategy will be available closer to launch, adding that more pre-qualified miles of highway will also be added to the list of Blue Zones in the future.

There’s no dedicated BlueCruise button to engage the hands-free system. Instead, the technology is more a feature added to adaptive cruise control (ACC). To activate BlueCruise, the driver first needs to engage ACC, then press the steering-wheel icon on the steering wheel itself. If driving in a Blue Zone, the system will engage, informing the driver that it’s active with blue lights and text notifications in the gauge cluster. Also, if BlueCruise was engaged the last time ACC was active, BlueCruise automatically turns on the next time ACC is activated.

Once BlueCruise is activated, a hands-free driving is possible until the system prompts the need for hands-on control. Ford said this feature sets its technology apart from both Tesla Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise, which offer similar benefits but have different communication styles and driver input requirements.

To test BlueCruise, Ford put more than a half-million development miles (804,670 km) into the technology, then took ten equipped vehicles on the "Mother of All Road Trips,” a series of long-distance drives that added up to more than 110,000 miles (177,000 km) across 37 states and five provinces in the U.S. and Canada in November and December of 2020. The drives proved the technology works in all environmental conditions, Ford said.