Many of Ford Motor Company’s vehicles already have Active Park Assist, which allows for automatic parallel parking, but the company is looking to the future and reportedly working on a way for cars to perpendicular-park themselves, and drive through traffic jams without driver involvement.
We’ve all seen Ford’s Active Park Assist -- at least in commercials -- park cars like the Focus, Taurus, and Lincoln MKT with the push of a button. The Active Park Assist system uses a series of ultrasonic sensors mounted on the front and rear bumpers to measure a parking spot’s length and width, and then turns the car’s steering wheel to perfectly guide the vehicle into the spot. Many of Ford’s pricier vehicles also have adaptive cruise control, which uses front-mounted radar sensors to keep a set speed and set distance from the car in front, and most have the option of rear parking sensors to detect obstacles when the car is moving in reverse.
As it turns out, the hard work of making a car that drives itself is mostly done: because Ford's cars with Active Park Assist can already steer themselves -- by way of electric power assisted steering -- and slow down/speed up automatically--by way of drive-by wire throttle and brakes -- a future Ford that drives itself would merely have to build on top of these systems.
The first system, which will debut in the near future, is a new Active Park Assist feature where the car will automatically perpendicular-park itself. The system will work the same as the parallel-park feature: drivers push the automatic park button, and the system will beep when it has found the correct size space. At that point, the driver engages reverse and controls the throttle/brakes while the car steers itself.
But looking deep into the future -- Ford says 2017 at the earliest -- the automaker is working on Traffic Jam Assist, which would serve as a sort of auto-pilot while a driver is in traffic. It would control throttle, brakes, and steering to keep a car in its lane and gently slow it down or speed it up depending on traffic situations.
This isn’t anything particularly new, considering that GM has been working on a sort of super cruise control for a while, but Ford claims that on any given stretch of highway, giving 25 percent of cars some form of Traffic Jam Assist would actually help to alleviate congestion. In one Ford-sponsored simulation study, delays were reduced by one-fifth when one-quarter of simulated cars had Traffic Jam Assist turned on.
Ford claims that the Traffic Jam Assist system is configured to work only with its Powershift dual-clutch transmissions right now, but it’s safe to say that it’ll work with future automatic transmissions as well. We’d also guess that, for obvious reasons, Traffic Jam Assist won’t be available for cars fitted with a good ol' fashioned manual.