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June 18, 2020 2:45 PM, EDT

Ford Takes on Tesla With Hands-Free Driving for Electric Mustang

The Ford Motor Co. logo.(Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

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Ford Motor Co. plans to install a hands-free driving system on its electric Mustang Mach-E model coming later this year as it attempts to muscle in on the high-tech turf now dominated by Tesla Inc.

The carmaker’s system won’t be operational until the second half of 2021, but buyers of the first Mach-E models rolling off the line in Mexico later this year can opt for hardware that will enable it. The software that brings the Active Drive Assist feature to life must be purchased separately when it becomes available late next year, the company said.

The automaker is taking on Tesla’s Autopilot and Detroit rival General Motor Co.’s Super Cruise. Both allow highway drivers to take their hands off the wheel, though they’re expected to keep their eyes focused on the road. Ford touted its technology as more advanced since it uses multiple infrared cameras trained on the driver to monitor eye movement — even through sunglasses.

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That’s critical because drivers with hands-free systems are easily distracted but must remain alert enough to grab the wheel at a moment’s notice, Darren Palmer, Ford’s global director of battery electric vehicles, told reporters in a June 17 briefing.

“Our research has shown us that after something like seven minutes of the car driving itself, humans will start to trust the system and consider doing other tasks, maybe texting or looking around,” he said. “No cars on sale are autonomous.”

Ford said the technology will work on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in the U.S. and Canada. It didn’t provide pricing for the optional Mach-E hardware and software.

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