Ford to roll out hands-free driving in Q3 of 2021, starting with the Mustang Mach-E

Kirsten Korosec
A pre-production screen showing the human-machine interface of Active Drive Assist, a new Ford Co-Pilot360 technology that allows for hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in all 50 states and Canada.

Ford will start offering a hands-free driving feature in the second half 2021, beginning with its new Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle.

The hands-free feature, called Active Drive Assist, is part of a larger package of advanced driver assistance features collectively called Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. But it's the hands-free offering that is getting all of the attention today.

The hands-free feature has been anticipated since the Mustang Mach-E — which has a driving monitoring system situated above the steering wheel — was revealed last year.

There are important caveats to Ford's announcement. The tech, while notable, won't be available everywhere and in every Ford vehicle. Drivers who want the feature will have to buy a 2021 Mustang Mach-E and the additional Active 2.0 Prep Package, which includes the proper hardware, such as sensors to support the system. The software is purchased separately and at a later date once it's ready. The software can be added either at a dealership or via over-the-air updates in the third quarter of 2021, Ford said. And all this will come at a price, which is still unknown.

The hands-free feature will work on about 100,000 miles of pre-mapped, divided highways in the U.S. and Canada. The monitoring system will include an advanced infrared driver-facing camera that will track eye gaze and head position to ensure drivers are paying attention to the road. The DMS will be used in the hands-free mode and when drivers opt for lane-centering mode, which works on any road with lane lines. Drivers who don't keep their eyes forward will be notified by visual prompts on their instrument cluster.

This "prep package" also includes the latest iteration of park assist, which will handle maneuvering into parallel and perpendicular spaces. It also offers a "Park Out Assist" feature, with side-sensing capability that helps drivers navigate out of a parking spot when someone's parked too close.

Ford made a point of comparing its system in the Mustang Mach-E to Tesla's Model Y. In particular, Ford notes that it is hands-free, while Tesla's driver assistance system, known as Autopilot, is not. But the comparison doesn't quite square.

A better comparison might be with its rival GM, which has taken a similarly cautious approach to introducing its hand-free driving system known as Super Cruise, which also has a driver-monitoring system. GM limited Super Cruise to just one Cadillac branded model, the full-size CT6 sedan, and restricted its use to certain divided highways. Over the past year, GM has improved the capabilities of the feature, expanded where it can be deployed and is offering it in other models.