Autonomous driving is no longer reserved for luxury cars, as Ford reveals plans to bring driverless systems - including one which can park a car without the driver being inside - to our roads very soon. The systems will be affordable alternatives to those already offered by BMW and Tesla.
Called Traffic Jam Assist, the first system works alongside the car's cruise control and uses cameras and radar to monitor road markings and surrounding traffic. When driving in stop-start traffic on a busy motorway, the feature can be switched on via the steering wheel; it then takes control of the steering, brakes and accelerator.
Shown off for the first time in Germany, the system will keep the car in the centre of your lane, a safe distance from the vehicle in front, and below the speed limit (which the driver sets before switching the system on). It also works, unlike current cruise control systems, after the car has come to a halt, with it setting off again to keep up with the flow of the traffic.
Drivers must keep a loose hold of the steering wheel, as they are instructed to with Tesla Autopilot, and if they do not then a series of visual and audible warnings will raise the alarm. Resting your arm on the door and a fingertip on the wheel is enough to tell the car you are ready to take control if necessary.
Making any input through the wheel, pedals or indicator stalk switches the system off. Unlike Tesla Autopilot, the Ford cannot autonomously switch lanes when the driver flicks the indicator. A feature similar to this appears in the 2016 BMW 7-Series, allowing the car to keep itself in lane on the motorway.
"For many drivers, fighting heavy traffic on the way to work leaves them stressed, angry and exhausted, even before the work day begins. Traffic Jam Assist helps the driver maintain the distance to the vehicle ahead and helps to keep the vehicle centred in the lane. The system aims to reduce driver stress in dense traffic scenarios," said Reid Steiger of Ford Europe's Automated Driving division.
A car which parks itself - with no driver inside
Next up is Remote Park Assist, an upcoming feature which will let car owners park in tight spaces without even being in the car. They park near the space, step out, then use the car fob to tell the car to park itself. The system works in reserve too, so drivers can extract their car from a tight space if someone has parked too close to them. Again, this system is also available on the new 7-Series, but Ford will bring it into the hands of drivers on a much lower budget.
Remote parking has been in development by Ford for some time, having first been demonstrated to IBTimes UK back in 2013. The technology has presumably come a long way in the last two years, but Ford is still refusing to say when remoter parking - and the autonomous motorway traffic driving system - will be available to consumers.