Test driving GM, Ford and Tesla ‘hands-free’ systems

The 2023 Lincoln Corsair will offer the company’s next-generation ActiveGlide hands-free Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) for highway driving, which includes lane-changing, in-lane positioning and predictive speed assist.

Lincoln

Detroit – It’s hard to let go. Even though major automakers want to make it easy.

Car companies are rapidly expanding technologies that can control the acceleration, braking and steering of a vehicle. In some cases, allowing drivers to rest the steering wheel or pedals for miles at a time.

The system, formally known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), has the potential to unlock new revenue streams for companies while reducing driver fatigue and improving safety on the road. But without industry-standard guidelines by federal regulators, automakers have largely built their systems independent of each other. That means years in development, “hands-free” or “semi-autonomous” could mean something very different in the hands of rival automakers.

To be clear, none of the vehicles on sale today are self-driving or autonomous. Drivers always need to pay attention. Current ADAS mostly use a suite of cameras, sensors and mapping data to assist the driver and monitor the driver’s attention.

Most talked about automaker with ADAS Tesla, which has a variety of technologies that it randomly calls “autopilot” and “full self-driving capability,” among other names. (The vehicles do not drive themselves completely.) But General Motors, ford motor And others are quickly releasing or improving their own systems and expanding them to new vehicles.

I recently tested ADAS from Tesla, GM and Ford. Their systems are the most readily available and dynamic in the market. However, none of them were flawless during my time behind the wheel.

And even small differences in the system can have a big impact on driver safety and confidence.

GM’s Super Cruise

I initially tested GM’s system a decade ago on a closed track, and the automaker’s years developing Super Cruise have clearly paid off in overall performance, safety and clear communication with the driver. It is the best performing and most consistent system.

GM initially released Super Cruise on Cadillac sedans in 2017 — two years after Tesla’s Autopilot — before expanding it to 12 vehicles in recent years. It aims to make Super Cruise available on 22 cars, trucks and SUVs globally by the end of 2023.

The system allows drivers to operate “hands-free” while driving on more than 400,000 miles of pre-mapped divided highways in the US and Canada. (Ford has mapped 150,000 miles, and Tesla’s system runs on hypothetically any highway.)

Super cruise is at the forefront of highway driving and can handle most of the challenges including curves and multiple construction areas. Its latest update also includes automatic lane changes which do a pretty good job of avoiding slower vehicles and maintaining a set speed.

Over the hundreds of miles driving the system, I was routinely able to engage Super Cruise for upwards of 30 minutes, even pulling a stint lasting over an hour without relinquishing control of the vehicle . When Super Cruise disengaged, it would typically be available again minutes, if not seconds, later.

According to GM, most of the problems I experienced were likely due to outdated mapping data, which the system needs to operate. When new finished construction or heavy temporary work is being done, GM’s system defaults to returning control to the driver until the road is properly pre-mapped.

GM says it has produced more than 40,000 vehicles equipped with Super Cruise, though these do not represent all active users, and has racked up more than 45 million hands-free miles.

Pricing for the system varies by vehicle and brand — $2,500 for a Cadillac, for example — and carries a subscription cost of $25 per month or $250 per year after a free trial period.

Ford’s BlueCruise

Ford’s system is the newest of the three automakers and is similar to GM’s. In addition to pre-mapping and sensing capabilities, both systems feature infrared cameras in the vehicle to ensure drivers are paying attention. But if GM’s system is a capable and confident “driver,” Ford’s is still a teenager who’s learning too quickly.

Ford’s system — marketed as Ford BlueCruise and ActiveGlide for Lincoln — first becomes available in July 2021, though the company plans to use the system in more than 109,000 enrolled vehicles with more than 35 million hands-free driving miles by the end of November. have expanded.

Pricing for Ford’s system varies by brand and vehicle. It could be part of an optional package that costs around $2,000 and includes other features for the 2023 Ford F-150 and Mustang Mach-E. Like GM, it requires a subscription after a trial period.

Like GM, Ford’s system works well on highways… until it doesn’t. It is less predictable and struggles with particularly large or sharp curves, construction zones and other conditions a human driver would be able to handle with ease.

Ford’s BlueCruise system as featured on a Mustang Mach-E electric crossover.

ford

The longest hands-free time I was able to do with Ford’s system during my test drive, which took place largely on I-75 and a construction-laden I-94 in rural and urban areas of Michigan, was 20 minutes and was about 25 miles.

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This is a problem when you are trying to reduce driver fatigue and increase driver confidence in such a system.

“When you’re coming up on curves in the road, it’s randomly diverging, that’s not good enough,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights. Which specializes in advanced and emerging automotive technologies.

Chris Billman, chief engineer for ADAS vehicle system integration at Ford, stressed that the company is being overly cautious with its system at this stage. Despite warnings to take back control, the system is designed to remain in operation until the driver takes control.

Billman said the system stops on most major highway curves because it’s not currently designed to slow the vehicle ahead of the curve — launched in 2017 with Super Cruise. This is expected to improve with the next major update to the system early next year.

Ford’s BlueCruise system is displayed on the F-150 pickup truck’s driver information cluster.

ford

Ford could also improve the way its systems interact with the driver. GM uses a lightbar on the steering wheel and communications in the driver cluster — the best communication features among the three existing systems.

That’s not to say that Super Cruise isn’t still learning.

If I hadn’t captured and displaced a large S-curve roadway near Detroit, both the Ford and GM systems would likely have hit a temporary concrete construction barrier.

Both Super Cruise and BlueCruise split up several times for no reason, only to reunite later. The Super Cruise also attempted to merge into a breakdown lane or median in a newly prepared construction zone, while the Ford performed a similar maneuver through a curve.

And of course, no system handles city streets quite like a Tesla.

then there’s tesla

Tesla’s technology is by far the most ambitious of the three and drives well on the highway. But it can be nerve-wracking, if not dangerous, on city streets, especially in turns in traffic.

Tesla vehicles come as standard with an ADAS known as Autopilot. However, owners can upgrade the system with additional features for a cost. According to Tesla’s website, the full self-driving (FSD) upgrade currently costs $15,000 when you buy the vehicle, or a monthly subscription option between $99 and $199 later depending on the vehicle.

I was able to use three Tesla levels of the system with varying functionality in a Tesla Model 3 manufactured in 2019. Driving with the FSD beta (version 10.69.3.1) was one of the most stressful driving moments in my life (and I have had a lot!).

During a limited test on the highway, Tesla’s system worked very well. The journey included automatic lane changes and navigation-based exits, although it passed an exit ramp due to traffic. GM and Ford currently do not link navigation to ADAS.

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Tesla’s ADAS is also able to identify traffic lights on city streets and act accordingly, which was pretty impressive.

One of the biggest problems I had with Tesla’s system on the highway was how often it asked me to “check in” — an action that requires tugging on the steering wheel to prove the driver is Is physically in the driver’s seat and paying attention. It takes some time to “check-in” so that the system is not disengaged.

Tesla FSD Beta - an experiment on public roads

I also struggled with the car communicating when the system was busy.

Unlike Ford and GM, which show prominently when the system is activated, Tesla’s only indication that ADAS is engaged is a small steering wheel icon—smaller than a dime—at the top left of the vehicle’s center screen. (The Tesla Model 3 does not have a driver-facing display screen.)

This means that the driver actually has to look away from the road to confirm whether the system is active or not. And it doesn’t communicate very well if the system is off, leaving the driver unaware when the system is operating and anxious.

Such problems were even more baffling when the FSD Beta was operating on surface roads. In addition to highway problems, the system – as documented in countless YouTube videos – has difficulties with certain turns.

A mean U-turn crossover—known locally as a “Michigan left”—and the system turns into the equivalent of a young, if not dangerous, student driver. At one point while performing such a maneuver, the Tesla stalled in not one, but three lanes of traffic as I attempted to make the turn before overtaking the system.

On the straight, congested streets of suburban Detroit, Tesla’s system worked reasonably well. But it lacked the experience to recognize nuances of a human driver such as letting others into a lane. It also had some difficulties with lane changes and seemed to get lost when lane markings were not available.

All of these concerns have led to no other company releasing a system like Tesla’s FSD beta, which has been criticized for using its customers as test mules. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

CEO Elon Musk has promised for years that the vehicles will be able to drive completely by themselves. In a recent argument in response to a lawsuit filed in California, Tesla said that its “failure” to realize such a “long-term, aspirational goal” did not amount to fraud and that it could only do so through “sustained” Will achieve full autonomous driving. and drastic reform.”

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