Ford: In two years, drivers will have the option to take their eyes off the road

According to CEO Jim Farley, in only two years Ford Motor Co. will offer technology that may allow drivers to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the steering wheel.

“We're really getting close to the goal,” Farley said in an interview with Bloomberg TV's David Westin on May 31. “With a prototype, we can do this pretty regularly now, but doing it in a cost-effective way is exactly the progress we need to make.”

Farley believes Ford could make these advances quickly enough to supply the feature in 2026. This could make Ford the primary mass-market automotive brand to supply what auto engineers call Level 3 autonomy, where the automotive takes over the driving task under certain conditions so the motive force can focus their attention on other tasks.

“With Level 3 autonomy, in a few years you'll be able to take your hands and eyes off the road on the highway, so your car becomes a sort of office,” Farley said. “You can have a conference call and all sorts of things.”

Ford and other automakers, including General Motors Co., currently offer hands-free driving features, but they use eye-tracking devices to make sure the motive force is targeted on the road. Ford's system, called BlueCruise, is currently being investigated by U.S. safety regulators after it was involved in fatal crashes. Tesla Inc. and others are also being investigated by federal authorities over crashes involving their semi-autonomous systems.

Farley's prediction comes lower than two years after Ford shut down its autonomous driving subsidiary, Argo AI, since it felt achieving the goal of fully autonomous driving was too far-off.

Mercedes-Benz began offering the “Eyes Off the Road” feature within the U.S. late last 12 months, however it only works at speeds below 40 miles per hour on pre-approved highways.

“We think we can only do it on sunny days,” Farley said. “Heavy rain and stuff like that makes it difficult at 80 miles an hour.”

Ford desires to generate recurring revenue by offering its drivers subscription services for features like BlueCruise. Farley believes these high-margin software services will mitigate the boom and bust cycles within the auto business.

Ford already sells software systems to its business customers to assist them manage the logistics of their fleets. Farley sees semi-autonomous features, comparable to driving without looking off the road, as a strategy to entice private customers to purchase software subscriptions.

“BlueCruise is much more popular than we expected because it's hands-free,” Farley said. “It's the step before you can take your eyes off it, so to speak.”


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