BlueCruise, the “hands-free” driver assist feature that Ford sees as a viable competitor to GM’s Super Cruise and Tesla’s Autopilot, won’t receive any over-the-air software updates until the first quarter of 2022, the company’s executives said Wednesday night. The automaker had originally planned on pushing its first OTA software updates for select Ford customers before the end of 2021.
In an earnings call with investors, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the company’s engineers needed a little more time to make the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) easier to use for customers.
“We wanted to improve the customer experience,” Farley said. “So we pushed it back in terms of an OTA because we want it to be much simpler for the customer than was originally planned. And that takes a little planning to consolidate. Often these Level 2 systems require multiple updates to the car. We want it to be very simple. That took a little bit more work on our team’s part.”
Level 2 systems, as defined by the Society for Automotive Engineers’ levels of automation, work in concert with a number of distinct features, like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blindspot detection, pedestrian monitoring, and stop sign detection. These systems do not make the vehicle autonomous, as drivers are required to stay vigilant and keep their eyes on the road.
Ford also included an active driver monitoring system in the form of an infrared sensor on the steering column that tracks the driver’s eyes to make sure they are keeping them on the road. In that way, drivers can technically take their hands off the wheel on “prequalified sections of divided highways” that Ford has mapped.
Ford said that it was currently shipping 2021 F-150 pickup trucks and 2021 Mustang Mach-E SUVs to customers with BlueCruise functionality, but that the system would not be ready for its first OTA updates until next year.
“Given the importance of this technology upgrade, we’ve retimed the BlueCruise over-the-air update so we can deliver the highest-quality experience possible for customers,” a spokesperson said.
Ford has said it expects to sell more than 100,000 vehicles equipped with BlueCruise in the first year, based on company sales and take-rate projections.
Car consumers are certainly attracted to more high-tech systems, especially if they can promise a safer, more stress-free driving experience. A survey conducted by Edmunds in late 2017 found that 58 percent of car shoppers would pay an extra $1,000 or more for a vehicle equipped with active safety features.
The ADAS has grown highly competitive in the auto industry, as automakers seek to roll out more advanced systems to customers. GM recently announced a new version of Super Cruise called “Ultra Cruise,” that — when it ships in 2023 — will cover “95 percent” of all driving scenarios. Meanwhile, Tesla is pushing its “Full Self-Driving” beta software on more and more customers, despite warnings from government regulators that the system is being deceptively marketed as a fully autonomous system.