Self-driving car system approved for use on GB motorways by government
Image credit: Ford
Motorway drivers will be legally allowed to let go of a car's steering wheel for the first time, after the UK became the first European country to approve a hands-free system.
Ford announced that it has been given the go-ahead by the government to switch on its “hands-off, eyes-on” BlueCruise Level 2 hands-free advanced driver assistance system for 2,300 miles (3,700 km) of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland and Wales, designated as Blue Zones. It is not yet available in Northern Ireland.
The BlueCruise system can be activated to control functions such as steering, acceleration, braking and lane positioning. It is currently only available on the 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E, a pure electric vehicle.
BlueCruise operates up to a maximum speed of 80mph (130 km/h), using a combination of five radars and cameras to detect and track the position and speed of other vehicles on the road. A forward-facing camera detects lane markings and speed signs and the system also uses an infrared driver-facing camera to check the driver’s eye gaze and head pose (even if wearing sunglasses) to ensure that their attention remains focused on the road in case human intervention is required.
The system uses animated cluster transitions featuring text and blue lighting cues (effective for those with colour blindness) to communicate that the feature is in hands-free mode. If the system detects that a driver is not paying attention, warning messages will be displayed on the dashboard, followed by audible alerts and then an automatic slowing of the vehicle. The same process happens if the vehicle leaves the motorway.
Transport minister Jesse Norman said: “It is great news that Ford has chosen Great Britain for the European launch of their [sic] BlueCruise technology and I am delighted that this country is once more at the forefront of innovation.
“The latest advanced driver assistance systems make driving smoother and easier, but they can also make roads safer by reducing scope for driver error.”
Martin Sander, general manager, Ford Model-e, Europe, said: “Modern highways can be demanding even for the most confident drivers, and intimidating for many. BlueCruise can do some of the ‘heavy lifting’, to make highway driving less of a chore, and give drivers that little extra confidence and convenience.”
Lisa Brankin, Ford’s managing director for the UK and Ireland, said: “Today marks a significant moment for our industry as Ford BlueCruise becomes the first hands-free driving system of its kind to receive approval for use in Great Britain.
“We have always strived to make technology accessible for our customers and BlueCruise is this next step on this journey, making motorway driving a more comfortable experience.”
As well as requiring a 2023-model Ford Mustang Mach-E (costing around £50,000), subscribing to BlueCruise costs £17.99 a month, although the first 90 days are free.
Ford engineers conducted test drives of its latest assistance systems, including BlueCruise, covering 100,000 miles on European roads. Testing in Britain featured routes with hazards such as worn-out lane markings poor weather and roadworks.
Ford said it will roll out BlueCruise to more of its vehicles “in the coming years”. The system is already active in the US and Canada, where 193,000 BlueCruise-equipped Ford vehicles have driven 64 million hands-free miles (102 million km) in those territories.
Fully self-driving cars remain banned on public roads in the UK apart from during government-approved trials. Legislation to approve the technology could be introduced as early as 2025.
Ford expects BlueCruise to be activated in further European countries as and when regulatory conditions permit and will roll out the system to further Ford vehicles in the coming years.
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