Following news today from Ford, announcing that it has launched the UK’s first ‘hands-free’ assisted driving system, Thatcham Research vehicle technology specialist Tom Leggett offers an expert view, explaining what “BlueCruise” is and, importantly, what it isn’t:
“While many reports have suggested that Ford has launched Britain’s first ‘self-driving’ car, this is the next development in assisted driving technology. When activated, the system will control speed and distance from the car in front, as well as keeping the vehicle centred in its lane.
“It will be available only on selected motorways initially.
“What makes it different, is that for the first time ever drivers will be permitted to take their hands off the wheel. However, their eyes must remain on the road ahead; we call this ‘hands-off, eyes-on’ driving.
“Before BlueCruise can be enabled, a robust Driver Monitoring System (DMS) using infrared cameras positioned in the instrument cluster, will ensure that the driver has their eyes on the road. Crucially, the driver is not permitted to use their mobile, fall asleep or conduct any activity that takes attention away from the road.
“This demonstrates just how important DMS is, not only in enabling current assisted driving technology like BlueCruise but also as we move towards fuller levels of automation in the future.”
Who’s in control?
Leggett continues, “Although the vehicle can help control speed and position in lane, the driver is still wholly responsible for safety.
“It’s therefore no surprise that Ford and other car makers are looking to introduce technologies like this ahead of ‘Level 3’ Automated Lane Keeping Systems, which have experienced lingering questions around liability especially. Because BlueCruise users remain responsible and liable, a lot of the legal and technical complexities of automation and self-driving have been avoided, while still offering drivers a beneficial comfort feature that can reduce fatigue on long, monotonous journeys.
“We would expect car makers to ensure safe adoption by way of driver education and clear messaging in the vehicle manual and on the dashboard.”
Automotive risk intelligence company Thatcham Research is constantly investigating this technology, with its work linking the corners of the triangle comprising car makers, regulators, and insurers, to ensure the safe adoption of assisted and automated driving systems.
It will also continue to work with Euro NCAP to assess new assisted driving systems as they come to market.