Ford wants to be among the first automakers to put advanced driver-assist technology in affordable vehicles and is testing prototypes that can navigate traffic and park perfectly.
The automaker is researching intelligent driving features similar to those that will be offered by other carmakers in an industry making rapid progress in the development of a self-driving car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is encouraging this new field of research as a means for safety to take a big leap forward.
But many of the companies with similar advances close to production are luxury brands including Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
General Motors has lane-centering and other technology that will debut on the Cadillac brand starting with the new XTS and a prototype with "super cruise" ability that can drive itself with little manual aid.
"Ford is bringing it to a mass-market brand," said analyst Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific in Ann Arbor.
Many driver-assist systems will be available on the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion coming this fall with cameras and sensors to help the car stay in the proper lane, or to detect vehicles in the blind spot or cross traffic when pulling out of a parking spot. The car can parallel park and adapt its cruise-control speed to the car in front.
Research is under way to go further as part of a push by Executive Chairman Bill Ford to improve vehicles and mobility through technology.
Vehicles that detect their surroundings and respond by steering, braking or issuing warnings are being touted as the way to achieve safer and more-efficient traffic flow on increasingly congested roads.
At a media event to showcase Ford's 2013 model lineup Tuesday, the automaker talked about its Traffic Jam Assist technology that uses radar and other equipment to monitor the road and surroundings to safely navigate traffic, slowing, stopping and accelerating as needed.
"Drivers spend more than 30% of their time in heavy traffic," said Ford engineer Joseph Urhahne. "Traffic Jam Assist could help make traveling through congestion a more relaxing experience and, by keeping pace with the flow of traffic, potentially help relieve road congestion."
Simulations show if one in four vehicles on the road have the technology to automatically follow the traffic flow, trip times can be reduced by 37.5% and there are 20% fewer delays, said Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas.
"It's re-engineering software to get more out of existing hardware to help pay for it and get more features from it," Sullivan said.
Traffic Jam Assist is being developed for the "mid term," which means it could be five years out, said Jeff Greenberg, a senior technical leader at Ford.
Closer to production is adding hands-free perpendicular parking to the active park assist that currently performs parallel parking.
Sensors identify suitable parking spaces and the car backs in for quick, easy and straight parking, said engineering supervisor Michael Kane.
This system may only be a few years from production.
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