Ford’s Level 3 driver assistance feature won’t be able to handle busy city streets any time soon

BlueCruise, Ford’s hands-free driver assistance system, will be available in 500,000 vehicles by 2024. And a Level 3 system, also called conditional or unsupervised autonomy, will be available for the first time in next-generation electric vehicles. from Ford.

BlueCruise is a Level 2 system, which means that the vehicle controls important functions such as acceleration and braking, as well as lane centering and automatic lane changing. But while drivers can take their hands off the wheel and their feet off the pedals, they must keep their eyes on the road and be ready to take control at a moment’s notice. Ford said BlueCruise-equipped vehicles have already traveled more than 50 million miles.

Ford’s Tier 3 system will be available for the first time on its next-generation electric vehicles

Level 3 refers to highly automated driving, where the driver must still be able to take control of the vehicle when called upon, but can also take their eyes off the road in certain situations. Some experts have argued that L3 systems can be dangerous given the need for drivers to remain vigilant despite the vehicle performing most driving tasks.

Ford is in a race to incorporate partially autonomous features into consumer vehicles as quickly and safely as possible. Tesla is fueling the discussion with its controversial beta system, Full Self-Driving, which can theoretically handle local roads with traffic signals and pedestrians, but has also been criticized as a dangerous and unfinished product without enough guardrails.

GM also has a hands-free on-road feature called Super Cruise and has said it would release a more advanced product called Ultra Cruise that can handle “95 percent” of driving tasks. Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and others are also working on their own L3 products.

Last year, Ford dumped its robotaxi unit, Argo AI, arguing that the autonomous L3 features would ultimately prove more cost-effective and less technically complex. Doug Field, the company’s vice president in charge of electrification and software, declined to set a date for the release of its L3 features during today’s event.

Ford is in a race to incorporate more partially autonomous features into consumer vehicles as quickly and safely as possible.

“As much as I want to, we’re not going to deliver L3 by 2025,” Field said. “It is too ambitious and too compromising, so we have to lay the foundations. But you’re going to have to wait a bit longer for L3.”

Field described “key use cases” for Ford’s L3 product as stop-and-go traffic and long trips where you can “take your eyes off the road” and the vehicle will do all the steering, acceleration and braking. Field also described the limitation of the feature, saying it most likely won’t be able to handle urban environments with stop signs and pedestrians.

“Downtown operations with pedestrians and stop signs and two- and three-parked cars,” Field said. “That’s the hardest possible place to get L3 up and running.”


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