Radar-enabled ‘Adaptive’ Cruise Control Coming to Ford

When was the last time somebody got excited about a new Ford Taurus? Exactly.

My question was not posed with malice, but more out of musing. I had this thought after coming across an article on Wired.com about “adaptive” cruise control. Having never heard of adaptive cruise control before, my interest was piqued.

Last month, Wired.com’s Gregory Mone took a ride in a 2010 Ford Taurus with a few members of Ford’s engineering team. After 60,000 miles testing the system, Ford is working out the last few bugs before releasing production models of the system, first in the new Taurus. Eventually, every Ford vehicle will include this system.

“Adaptive” cruise control uses radar, much like aircraft and submarines, to identify objects around the vehicle. Based on that information, the system will adjust the vehicle’s speed while cruise control is engaged. On the day Wired’s reporter rode in the 2010 Taurus, the vehicle had been traveling south on the New Jersey Turnpike for nearly an hour without the driver touching either the brake or gas pedal. For the driver, it became simply a matter of signaling and steering. The system can also help drivers avoid collisions, whether or not cruise control is in use.

If the system senses a crash, it warns the passengers, tightens seatbelts, and improves brake response. This feature is already available in some form on certain Volvo models, which is understandable considering Ford owns the Volvo car brand (for now).

As someone who spends a substantial amount of time on highways in the ever-congested Northeast, the system could certainly be useful if it works as well as described. Even better, if the technology became available in a wide variety of vehicles, congestion and accidents could be significantly reduced if drivers can trust the system. With many vehicles adjusting their speed in controlled manners, the knee-jerk reaction to “slam on the brakes” can be eliminated because vehicles are no longer abruptly changing their speeds. Bottlenecks for no apparent reason can be reduced because one driver’s action will not have as large a ripple effect as otherwise might be the case. But, again, the technology is new, untested on a massive scale, and available only on one vehicle from Ford. Until Ford adds the system to more of its product line and more customers test it in everyday situations, its potential to improve driver safety is just a dream.