AI has landed on the 2023 F150s by way of Trailer Hitch Assist, and it’s pretty darn handy, actually.
To be fair, Ford has been one of the market leaders when it comes to having a bunch of technology packed into their utes for a while now. They have had things like lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control for at least the last few generations of Rangers and it’s a trend that looks set to continue with the re-introduction of the F150s this year.
Really, it was only a matter of time until AI made its presence felt among new vehicle owners. While self-driving cars, pedestrian collision avoidance and other nifty safety measures have been hitting the headlines for a while now, Ford has finally incorporated Artificial Intelligence into something practical rather than just safe (yawn). In case you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about Trailer Hitch Assist.
Picture this: you’ve been at your caravan site of choice for a week now and it’s time to move on. You’re gingerly doing your best to back your vehicle up to the van to hitch up and your partner is yelling unhelpful instructions through the window. There’s even a crowd of onlookers shaking their heads and exclaiming loudly how they “wouldn’t be doing it that way”. It’s hot, it’s frustrating and you’re urgently trying to recall if your partner’s life insurance policy covers being backed over by the tow rig.
No judgement. We’ve all been there.
What is Trailer Hitch Assist and how does it work?
However, the `23 model F150s (the American versions at least – no word on whether it’ll make it into Aussie models) are coming out with an innovative feature called Pro Trailer Hitch Assist. Essentially, it’s the same as those systems you see on inner city hatchbacks that reverse park the car for you. Only this one positions your tow ball underneath the tow coupling perfectly every time.
Using a combination of the rear camera and corner radars, Pro Trailer Hitch Assist aligns the tow ball and coupling while controlling the vehicle speed, steering input and braking to stop exactly where it needs to. All at the press of a button on the vehicle’s dash-mounted touchscreen. Not only that, the computer vision system is accurate out to a distance of approximately 20 feet (or about 6 metres if you live in one of the dozens of countries that aren’t America) and incorporates machine learning algorithms that will determine the best path to follow. In conjunction with the ultrasonic reverse parking system, it will even warn the driver of any obstacles in the way.
The whole shooting match was developed exclusively in-house by Ford’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems team and factors in huge amounts of algorithmic data to detect a broad variety of trailers of varying shapes and sizes, as well as allowing for different types of terrain. Trailer Hitch Assist even accounts for prevailing weather conditions.
Via software updates, the system can have more trailer data inputted as well as tweaks to make the whole thing smoother, faster and better as time goes on. No wonder Ford received over 60 patents over the course of development, eh?
So how does this work in the real world?
So how does this all translate into real-world useability? Watch the video below to see how it works. But essentially, the driver has to ensure the tow coupling is higher than the tow ball (duh), and then shift into neutral, hold down the Pro Trailer Hitch Assist button and watch on the screen as the magic happens. Once the tow ball is positioned directly under the coupling, the vehicle shifts into Park automatically. Really, it’s about as foolproof and marriage-saving as it gets.
Other innovative towing features
Pro Trailer Hitch Assist is just one of the inclusions for those considering the new Effy for towing though. Ford has also gamified reversing your trailer with Pro Trailer Backup Assist. This takes the difficulty out of going backward with your van and makes it as easy as turning a dial in the direction you want your trailer to go. No more struggling to get it exactly where you want it in those tighter-than-average sites.
Oh, and for those of us who keep an eagle eye on GVMs (which really should be all of us, right?), Ford has onboard scales for monitoring payload weights in the tray. Smart taillights have an inbuilt vertical array of LEDs that light up as weight is loaded into the tray. When the four lights are illuminated, you’re at capacity. If the top one starts blinking, you’re overloaded.
There’s also scale mode, which allows you to zero the current load and approximately weigh whatever you’re carrying. Saves driving to the local weighbridge, hey?
Finally, Ford has also got the class-exclusive Smart Hitch which measures ball weight and provides guidance, via the internal touchscreen, on weight distribution in your trailer and can tell you via the smart taillamps if your hitch is overloaded. It even guides you through properly tensioning your weight distribution hitch.
We’re still waiting on these handy features
Ford still won’t return my emails on when they’re bringing out the “make me a coffee” and “how about a backrub?” AI systems. But given they’ve thought of pretty much everything else, it shouldn’t be long now. Stay tuned.