The new 2021 F-150 will get Ford's hands-free driving tech

Ford's new 2021 F-150 will have the option to drive itself on highways, albeit with human supervision, as the company expands its Active Drive Assist package. Announced last week as an option for the upcoming Mustang Mach-E electric crossover, Active Drive Assist uses eye- and head-tracking to make sure the person at the wheel is paying attention to the road, even if their hands aren't on the wheel.

While adaptive cruise control systems with lane-keeping aren't new, typically they demand some sort of contact with the wheel in order for the system to be convinced the driver is still paying attention. On some systems that's torque-based – tracking movement on the wheel – while, rarer, it can also use contact sensors. Either way, though, it's not the most relaxed way to cruise.

Active Drive Assist, however, will allow you to take your hands off the wheel completely, just as long as you're still paying attention to the road situation. It'll work on divided highways with controlled on/off-ramps, with over 100,000 miles of such roads across the US and Canada promised to support the system at launch. If you're not paying attention, meanwhile, Active Drive Assist will flash up warnings and potentially even bring the F-150 to a halt.

Unfortunately, as with the Mustang Mach-E, it won't be ready for the 2021 F-150's arrival this fall in US dealerships. Instead, Ford is going to take a two-phase approach.

From launch, the new F-150 will be offered with an Active Drive Assist prep pack. That will add all the relevant hardware to the truck, so that it's physically ready for the functionality when it leaves the factory. All that will be missing is the software.

That will follow on in summer 2021, Ford says. It'll be available as either an over-the-air (OTA) update, using the F-150's embedded 4G LTE modem, or by taking the truck into a dealership. Either way, there'll be a charge for the software, though Ford hasn't said how much that will be yet.

Clearly, we're still far from a fully-autonomous vehicle, even one which is limited in where it can self-drive without supervision. All the same, F-150 owners often put plenty of miles on their trucks over the course of a year, and a sizable proportion of that driving can be on highways. That could well make Active Drive Assist even more useful on the new pickup than it is on the electric crossover, though we'll have to wait until next year to see just how well it performs in the real world.