New Ford BlueCruise self-driving feature takes on Tesla Autopilot

Ford will start rolling out its “BlueCruise” alternative to Tesla’s “Autopilot” this year, allowing owners of its latest cars to drive hands-free in limited circumstances.

But Australian drivers will have to wait to access the feature, which is initially limited to the US and Canada.

And it only works on what Ford describes as carefully-selected “prequalified sections of divided highways called Hands-Free Blue Zones”.

Drivers hoping to take a nap or catch up on TV behind the wheel might be disappointed, as the system uses a driver-facing camera in the instrument cluster to monitor eye gaze and head position “to help ensure the driver’s eyes remain on the road”.

Only two cars will have BlueCruise when an upcoming software update makes it possible – the electric Mustang Mach-E, and the new Ford F-150 pick-up – and only when fitted with the top driver assistance suite.

Other models, such as the V8-powered Mustang GT, might have to wait until next-generation machines arrive with more sophisticated sensors such as the driver-facing camera.

Ford called out Tesla’s Autopilot in its press release announcing the launch of BlueCruise, saying it is “similar to Tesla Autopilot … [but] does not require a driver’s hands to stay in contact with the steering wheel”.

Ford chief executive Jim Farley also took a subtle dig at Tesla on Twitter, saying “we tested it in the real world, so our customers don’t have to”.

That might be a reference to the “beta” nature of Tesla’s autopilot system, which is developed with the help of data from thousands of customers around the world.

Autopilot has been linked to the deaths of several customers overseas.

Unlike Tesla’s offering, which works on just about any road with lane markings, Ford’s system is limited to major highways.

Tesla fans ridiculed Ford’s “geofencing” strategy on social media, pointing out that the Model S electric car has had similar capability for almost a decade.

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