Ford reveals new technology in the Mustang Mach-E

ACTIVE ASSISTANT: John Gilchrist, a Ford Mustang Mach-E engineer, shows hands-free technology known as "active driver assist" that will become availalbe to consumers in the second half of 2021. Ford Motor Company/Tribune News Service

DETROIT — When you climb behind the wheel of your all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E, you won’t need to choose between your just-brewed hot coffee and warm glazed doughnut. Because the new driver assist technology will get you home hands-free, the company announced Thursday.

“This helps make long drives more enjoyable and less stressful,” said Chris Billman, engineering manager for the Ford Co-Pilot360 program.

You can take your hands off the wheel, but you still need to keep your eyes on the road.

A driver-facing camera monitors for head gaze and eye movement to ensure that the driver doesn’t disengage. This is not, repeat, not an autonomous vehicle. The new tech will be available in late 2021, first on Mach-E and then other vehicles.

“The camera can almost read your eyes when you’re wearing glasses or sunglasses,” said Darren Palmer, Ford global director for battery electric, explaining the infrared camera is designed to present drivers from dozing off or getting distracted.

“It’s important to measure the customer’s attention,” he said. “After around something like 7 minutes, humans will start to trust the system and consider doing other tasks … the driver is always in control and responsible at all times.”

If the camera detects a driver is not paying attention, the vehicle will issue a series of warnings on the dashboard.

Automotive engineers have said privately it can be challenging to program cameras to navigate facial hair or even a coffee mug. Ford said that its technology can deal with everything from most sunglasses to face masks during this time of coronavirus.

“We’ve tested facial hair from stubble to ‘ZZ Top’ and Active Drive Assist can handle it,” said Mike Levine, Ford North America product communications manager.

Meanwhile, drivers of luxury all-electric Teslas must keep their hands on the steering wheel or the system issues driver control alerts and then, eventually slows to a full stop.

Ford prides itself on what it calls “human-centered design” that allows for long distance driving. These features, for any vehicle, are not meant for city traffic.

A more comprehensive driver assist package may be the solution to our “increasingly distracted world,” said Karen Sullivan, marketing communications manager for Ford Co-Pilot360.

The company declined to reveal prices of the technology at this time, and promised more details in 2021.

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