Ford doesn't sell self-driving cars - yet. But some of the associated technology has begun to creep into its commercially available vehicles. Its latest premium SUV, the Ford Escape Titanium, boasts automated brakes that kick in without any input from the driver when it senses an incoming collision. Terrifyingly, we got behind the wheel to test out this feature for ourselves. Here is the video.
Active City Stop is an automated braking technology developed by Ford that helps to avoid or reduce the severity of slow-speed frontal collisions. Its chief purpose is to lend assistance on those rare occasions when you fail to notice a vehicle has stopped in front of you. Perhaps you're mediating with squabbling kids in the back seat or - get off our roads! - texting while driving. In these situations, the collision avoidance system essentially takes over from the driver.
Equipped with a light and ranging detection sensor on the windscreen (LIDAR for short), the system continuously scans the area 10 metres ahead for vehicles and other large objects. The sensor is able to capture 15 images, monitor the gap to the vehicle ahead and calculate whether the traffic is slowing or has stopped. If the driver does not respond to an incoming object, the system automatically applies the brakes and reduces engine torque.
Ford likens the feature to an air bag - it's not something you're supposed to rely on or even think about. Rather, Active City Stop will leap into life during unexpected emergencies. (Indeed, applying the brake yourself or turning the wheel will override the system, so you still have complete control.)
Active City Stop is equipped in a range of current Ford vehicles, including the Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo and Escape. The 2017 Escape range boasts an enhanced version that can operate at speeds of up to 50 km/h. This means it will work in most suburban streets around Australia. (Previous versions of Active City Stop only functioned up to 30km/h.)
Earlier in the week, we got to try out Active City Stop while test driving the Ford Escape Titanium (look out for a full review in the month ahead.) To add to the drama, we were testing the feature on a sandy beach to drastically increase brake times. Yikes.
During our hands-on demonstration, we were instructed to drive the Escape towards a rubber barricade... and to place both feet on the footrest a few seconds before impact. We can report that purposely coasting into an object with your foot off the brake is a nerve-wracking experience - we were absolutely convinced we were going to plough straight into it. At the critical moment, Active City Stop kicked in and the car stopped by itself with around a metre of clearance.
Here's the video of Active City Stop in action:
It's worth noting that Active City Stop cannot detect smaller objects such as humans in its current iteration - so you'll still need to keep an eye out for pedestrians and pesky dogs. Amusingly, one of the motoring journalists at the event failed to hear this tidbit and proceeded to discuss his review plan which involved driving the car into a friend. (We brought him up to speed and strongly advised against this.)
Active City Stop is just one of the driver-assist technologies Ford has rolled into its latest fleet of vehicles. Other noteworthy features include a Lane keeping system (which alerts the driver when they start accidentally creeping into another lane), Active Park Assist (a cool overlay for the rear camera screen that guides you into spaces) and a Blind Spot Monitor (which senses vehicles in your blind spot and alerts you if you attempt to make a lane change.)