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Ford's AI-powered tech lets pickups pull up to trailers by themselves

Towing trailers is one of the main reasons people buy pickups, but it can also be one of the most challenging things to do with them.

Driving a truck in reverse with a trailer attached is a skill that requires a lot of practice, and just getting a hitch lined up to connect in the first place is tricky.

The latter is especially true when you’re by yourself, even with the rearview cameras that come standard on vehicles today.

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Now, Ford has technology that lets its trucks do it for you, but it takes some training.

(Fox News Digital)

The Pro Trailer Hitch Assist feature available on the F-150 and F-Series Super Duty uses radars and a camera to spot a trailer, then controls the speed and steering of the vehicle to drive semi-autonomously toward it as the driver simply presses a button on the dashboard.

Ford built the system using narrow artificial intelligence to scan thousands of videos of trailers in a variety of shapes and sizes in different lighting and weather conditions so the software could learn what they look like and where their hitch couplers are usually located.

The Pro Trailer Hitch Assist requires the driver to monitor it while it is in operation.

The Pro Trailer Hitch Assist requires the driver to monitor it while it is in operation. (Fox News Digital)

“All the software development was done in-house by our engineers,” Ford technology spokesman Alan Hall told Fox News Digital during a demonstration of the feature at the New York International Auto Show

Ford has received 60 patents for the technology so far and has several more pending, Hall said.

It works within a range of about 20 feet. The driver first needs to position the vehicle so that the trailer is within a large target circle on the dashboard monitor, then holds down the button next to it as the truck takes over.

(Fox News Digital)

It stops a few feet short of the coupler so that the driver can check that it is at the correct height, then continues to position the hitch ball precisely under it before shifting itself into park. 

After that, the coupler just needs to be lowered onto the hitch, and you’re ready to go.

Hall said the feature already works with most trailer designs, but that the software will continue to be updated with imagery collected from further testing and the real world.

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Owners can opt in to provide videos recorded by their trucks, which will help expand the capabilities to identify even more types of trailers in various environments.

Hall said the data is entirely anonymized and not linked to a particular vehicle or location, and participation is not mandatory to use the feature. New versions of the software will periodically be sent to the trucks via over the air updates for free as they are completed.

Pro Trailer Hitch Assist is incorporated into the same dashboard controller as the Pro Trailer Backup Assist feature.

Pro Trailer Hitch Assist is incorporated into the same dashboard controller as the Pro Trailer Backup Assist feature. (Ford)

Pricing varies from model to model, but the system is part of an optional $1,325 towing package on the popular F-150 XLT that also includes the Pro Trailer Backup Assist feature, which has been available since 2016 and helps with the other part of towing.

It can drive a truck with a trailer attached in reverse. The driver just has to turn a knob that surrounds the Pro Trailer Hitch Assist button to point the vehicle in the direction they want it to go while monitoring their progress on the camera display.

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Maybe this towing thing is not so hard, after all.

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