Whether you like Tesla as a brand or not, there is no denying that it’s the Silicon Valley brand that actually accelerated the ongoing global transition from conventional fuel to electric powertrains. Elon Musk’s EV brand has also been in the forefront of self-driving car technology. Now Ford, which upped the ante in the electric SUV category by launching the Mustang Mach-E to take the fight to Tesla’s Model Y, has announced its own hands-free driver assist system to rival Tesla’s Autopilot.

The Ford Co-Pilot360, now with Active Drive Assist, apparently allows for hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in all 50 states of the USA, and Canada. Ford says the available Active Drive Assist is complemented by an advanced driver-facing camera, which tracks head position and driver eye gaze, even while wearing “most” sunglasses.

The all-electric Mustang Mach-E will be the first model to let customers order the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package that includes camera and radar hardware. It also offers the flexibility to separately purchase Active Drive Assist as an over-the-air software update next year.

Photo: Supplied

Ford engineers and test drivers have accumulated more than 650,000 miles testing technology like Adaptive Cruise Control and Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert to ensure these radar- and camera-based features work in most real-world scenarios.

“The stress of long highway drives remains a huge issue for drivers around the world,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product development and purchasing officer. “By introducing driver-assist technologies like Active Drive Assist, Ford’s version of hands-free driving, we’re allowing our customers to feel more confident whenever they’re behind the wheel.”

While it says the Hands-Free Mode allows drivers on certain sections of pre-mapped, divided highways to drive with their hands off the steering wheel, Ford reminds drivers that they must “continue to pay attention to the road ahead” while the tech is engaged. An advanced infrared driver-facing camera will track eye gaze and head position to ensure drivers are paying attention to the road while in Hands-Free Mode as well as hands-on Lane Centering Mode, which works on any road with lane lines. Drivers will be alerted by visual prompts on their instrument cluster when they need to return their attention to the road or resume control of the vehicle.

“Introducing Active Drive Assist with a driver-facing camera makes perfect sense because the vehicle helps relieve the stress and burden of driving but still leaves you fully in control,” said Thai-Tang. “And if you lose focus on the road ahead, Active Drive Assist will automatically warn and potentially slow the vehicle down until you’re ready to focus back up.”

Active Drive Assist will start rolling out on select 2021 model year Ford vehicles and will be available across the Mustang Mach-E lineup.