The hands-free liftgate available on the all-new Ford Escape faced torrential downpours, dogs and bouncing balls among other tests to make sure the back end only opens when the customer wants.

A gentle kicking motion under the center of the rear bumper activates, unlocks and raises the liftgate when the driver has the Escape key fob in their hand, pocket or bag. This allows quick and easy access to the cargo area without needing to set down packages or dig around for keys. The same motion closes the hatch.

The system safeguards against accidental openings by being programmed to open with leg motion and the breaking of a miniature electric field – not when a ball rolls under the car or when the vehicle hits a bump on the road.

“We tested the system in various settings, including at minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in our climate chamber to freeze the bumper,” said Dominik Nical, a Ford engineer in Germany who oversaw testing. “We saw no unintended openings, and it still opened when the test subject needed it to.”

Nical said Ford and system supplier Brose tested the Escape in numerous environmental conditions ranging from extreme cold snow to high heat and monsoon-like rain.

Errant balls and shopping carts

Besides Mother Nature, the system was tested numerous times against errant shopping carts hitting the rear of the Escape, a bouncing basketball going under the liftgate, a dog running underneath the bumper and someone polishing the rear bumper. None of these scenarios caused the liftgate to open.

“The system is very robust,” Nical noted. “It is designed to detect a kicking motion without deploying when other scenarios occur, making the customer confident in the technology.”

In fact, Ford engineers employed individuals passing by on the street in Dearborn to help the calibration process by providing “sample kicks,” Nical added.

The secret lies within how the software is calibrated, according to engineers who designed the system. The sensors, located between the tailpipes, detect both the shin and kicking motion of the key holder. The combination of that motion and the signals sent between the vehicle and the key fob activates the system.

For now this feature is only available on the all-new Escape but has potential to improve other touch and gesture technology that Ford is testing.

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