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

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The 2023 Lincoln Corsair will offer the company’s ActiveGlide hands-free advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) for highway driving, including lane changing, lane positioning and predictive speed assist.

Lincoln

DETROIT – Letting go is hard. Even if major car manufacturers want to make it easier.

Auto companies are rapidly developing technologies that can control the acceleration, braking and steering of a vehicle. In some cases, drivers can let go of the wheel or pedals for miles at a time.

The systems – formally known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – have the potential to unlock new revenue streams for businesses while reducing driver fatigue and improving road safety. But automakers have largely built their systems independently, with no industry-standard guidelines from federal regulators. That means years in development, “hands-free” or “semi-autonomous” could mean something entirely different in the hands of rival automakers.

To be clear, no vehicle for sale today is self-driving or autonomous. Drivers must always pay attention. Today’s ADAS usually use a series of cameras, sensors and map data to assist the driver and also monitor driver attentiveness.

The car manufacturer that is most often discussed besides ADAS is Tesla, which has a suite of technologies it haphazardly calls “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving Capability,” among others. (The vehicles are not fully self-driving.) But General engines, Ford engine and others are rapidly releasing or improving their own systems and extending them to new vehicles.

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

And even small differences between the systems can have a major impact on driver safety and confidence.

GM’s Super Cruise

I first tested GM’s system on a closed circuit ten years ago, and the automaker’s years of development of Super Cruise have clearly paid off in terms of overall performance, safety and clear communication with the driver. It is the best performing and most consistent system.

GM initially released Super Cruise on a Cadillac sedan in 2017 — two years after Tesla’s Autopilot — before expanding to 12 vehicles in recent years. The goal is to make Super Cruise available on 22 cars, trucks and SUVs worldwide by the end of 2023.

The system allows drivers to go “hands-free” while driving on more than 400,000 miles of pre-mapped divided highways in the US and Canada. (Ford has mapped 240,000 miles, and Tesla’s system hypothetically works on any highway.)

When the light bar on the steering wheel glows green on GM’s Super Cruise, drivers are allowed to take their hands off the wheel.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

Super Cruise is at the forefront of highway driving and can handle most challenges, including corners and lots of roadwork. The latest updates have also added automatic lane changes which work quite well for maintaining a set speed by avoiding slower vehicles.

After driving hundreds of miles with the system, I was able to regularly engage Super Cruise for over 30 minutes, even stretching a stint to over an hour without ever having to take control of the vehicle. When Super Cruise was disabled, it would usually be available again minutes, if not seconds, later.

Most of the problems I experienced were probably due to outdated map data that the system needs to work, according to GM. By default, when there is new construction completed or heavier temporary work is being done, GM’s system returns control to the driver until the road is properly mapped.

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

Pricing for the system varies based on vehicle and make — $2,500 for a Cadillac, for example — and carries a subscription fee of $25 per month or $250 per year after a free trial.

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 listed capabilities, both systems feature in-vehicle infrared cameras to ensure drivers are paying attention. But if GM’s system is a skilled and confident “driver,” Ford’s is still a teenager learning, albeit very quickly.

Ford’s system – marketed as Ford BlueCruise and ActiveGlide for Lincoln – first became available in July 2021, although the company has already expanded the systems to more than 109,000 registered vehicles with more than 35 million hands-free miles to the end November.

Prices for Ford’s system vary based on make and vehicle. It may be part of optional packages costing around $2,000 and include other features for the 2023 Ford F-150 and Mustang Mach-E. Like GM, it requires a subscription after trial periods.

Like GM, the Ford system functions well on highways…until it stops working. It’s less predictable and specifically struggles with bigger or tighter turns, road works and other conditions a human driver could easily handle.

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

ford

The longest I could go hands-free with the Ford system during my test drives, which took place largely on I-75 and a construction-packed I-94 in Michigan’s rural and urban areas, was 20 minutes and about 25 miles.

That’s a problem when you’re trying to reduce driver fatigue and increase driver confidence in such systems.

“If it randomly shuts off as you approach bends in the road, it’s not good enough,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a lead analyst at Guidehouse Insights, which specializes in advanced and emerging automotive technologies.

Chris Billman, chief engineer of ADAS vehicle systems integration at Ford, stressed that the company is being overly cautious with its system at this stage. Despite the warnings to take control, the system is designed to operate until the driver takes over.

Billman said the system turns off on most major highway bends because it’s not currently designed to slow the vehicle before a turn — something Super Cruise launched with in 2017. That’s expected to be improved with the next major update to the system, which starts early next year.

Ford’s BlueCruise system displayed on the driver information panel of an F-150 pickup truck.

ford

Ford could also improve how its system interacts with the driver. GM uses a light bar on the steering wheel and communication in the driver cluster – the best communication features of the three current systems.

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

Both Ford and GM systems probably would have hit a temporary concrete construction barrier if I hadn’t taken over and disconnected on a major S-turn near Detroit.

Super Cruise and BlueCruise both turned off several times for no reason, only to quickly turn back on. Super Cruise also attempted to merge into a hard shoulder or median strip in a newly completed construction zone, while Ford’s performed a similar maneuver midway through a turn.

And of course, neither system works on city streets like Tesla’s.

Then there’s Tesla

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

Tesla vehicles come standard with an ADAS known as Autopilot. However, owners can upgrade the system with additional features for a fee. The Full Self-Driving (FSD) upgrade currently costs $15,000 at the time you buy a vehicle, or a monthly plan you choose later costs between $99 and $199, depending on the vehicle, according to Tesla’s website .

I was able to use three Tesla levels of the system with different functionality in a Tesla Model 3 built in 2019. Driving the FSD Beta (version 10.69.3.1) was one of the most stressful driving moments of my life (and I have many! ).

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

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

One of my biggest issues with Tesla’s system on the highway was how often it asked me to “check in” – an act of pulling the steering wheel to prove the driver is physically in the driver’s seat and paying attention. The “check-ins” take some getting used to so the system doesn’t shut down.

I also struggled with the car’s communication about when the system was on.

Unlike Ford and GM prominently displaying when the system is engaged, the only indication that Tesla’s ADAS is engaged is a small steering wheel icon — smaller than a dime — in the upper-left corner of the vehicle’s center screen. (The Tesla Model 3 has no driver displays.)

That means that in order to confirm whether the system is on, the driver actually has to look away from the road. And when the system shuts down, it doesn’t communicate very well, leaving the driver unaware when the system is working and becoming anxious.

Such problems were even more noticeable while FSD Beta was operating on surface streets. In addition to the highway problems, the system – as documented in countless YouTube videos – struggles with some corners.

Add to that what is known locally as a “Michigan left” – a median U-turn crossover – 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 as it tried to make the turn before I overtook the system.

On straight, busy streets of suburban Detroit, Tesla’s system worked well for the most part. But it lacked the experience to recognize human driver nuances, such as stopping to let others into a lane. It also had some issues with lane changes and seemed to get lost when no lane markings were available.

All of these concerns are why no other company has released a system quite 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 several years that the vehicles would be fully self-driving. In a recent argument in response to a lawsuit filed in California, Tesla said its “failure” to achieve such an “ambitious long-term goal” was not fraud and that it would only achieve fully autonomous driving “through constant to drive”. and rigorous improvements.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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