Home Hands-free Liftgate: Ergonomic or Aggravating? Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: humantech on January 17th, 2012

by Winnie Ip, CPE

With the North American International Auto Show underway in Detroit this week, conversation has naturally been centered aroundHands-free Liftgate cool cars and features to look for.  When Ford announced a couple of years ago their new hands-free liftgate feature to be found on 2013 Ford Escapes, a lot of buzz was created.  Check out the YouTube link here.

So what’s the ergonomics lowdown?


  • Complete hands-free operation allows user to open liftgate even while holding a full load
  • Uses gesture-based technology borrowed from the interactive gaming community
  • Liftgate height can be programmed or adjusted manually to meet the needs of various users


  • Users have to get very close to the liftgate to be able to activate the feature (sensor is under the vehicle)
  • Users have to move out of the way to avoid being smacked in the chin (upon opening) or head (upon closing)
  • Kicking motion required results in awkward postures (think of holding a mound of shopping bags and packages and balancing on one leg)

Even for someone who loves technology (think using my iPhone in between playing  rounds of bowling on my Wii) sometimes the traditional method may be best. What do you think?

4 responses to “Hands-free Liftgate: Ergonomic or Aggravating?”

  1. Paul James says:

    I’ve got to question the whole arrangement. Especially in older vehicles, these doors are infamous for failing to hold up their own weight. They come down on your head, or demand to be constantly held in the air. I see 2-person teams loading groceries in the back of their van! One holds open the door, while the other loads bags, ducking and dodging the door and the other person. I see people practically doubled over, bags in hand or on the ground, fighting the latch at the bottom of the doors. Then they do the lift, using their back only to get that thing up from the back of the van. Some of the recent model years (of all brands) have been observed performing better, including opening under their own power, but it remains to be seen if these will display any more longevity than their dead-weight predecessors.

    I think the design flaws in these are fundamental: for manually-operated liftgate doors (and many of them become very manually-operated with a few years of use), the required reach extends from mid-shin to far above the operator’s head in a sweeping motion whose curving track through space begins and ends far from the operator, and approaches their body so drastically in between as to force the choice between moving back a few steps (while lifting no less), and being struck by the door.

    In keeping it simple, there are numerous older passenger vans and service vans (such as plumbers’ vans) seen driving on the road with an extremely more efficient, less punishing and less dangerous closure technology: side-by-side doors that latch at center at a reachable height. They swing on a vertical axis at the vehicle’s outer edge, and minimize personal-space invasion by aligning that axis perpendicular to the door’s narrower dimension. You get the same access to the deck as provided by the doggy-door hatch, plus, no door is hanging above you threatening to come down, and you completely escape the ergonomic nightmare of swooping that thing up out of your way, jumping up to grab the thing and pull it down on yourself, and holding up all its weight while contorting yourself to load or unload the van.

  2. Paul James says:

    Can any stranger walk by & open your liftgate? What if a cat walks under the sensor? How is the system secured?

  3. Winnie Ip says:

    Thanks for the comments Paul. Ford does say that the technology is sensitive enough to not activate if an animal passes by or a rock is kicked under the liftgate. In any case, I do I agree with you that the overall “flip-top” design should be questioned. Side-by-side or side-swing doors are much more efficient and safe. Cheers!

  4. Paul James says:

    OK so I’ve commented a couple times but… I just have this cartoonish vision of a pedestrian walking by and accidentally triggering this door, such as with a little dog on a leash that walks under the bumper… and all of a sudden, Fwap! the door pops out and levels the pedestrian, whose leash then launches the little dog into the air…

    But on a more serious ergonomic note, I imagine the person with their leg out, hanging under the bumper, only to have that door come out at them. Now they need to move out of its way, but their leg is extended awkwardly and they cannot back up quickly. They have to get the suspended leg onto the ground and then take a step back. All while balancing and holding loads, children, etc. in a traffic lane in the parking lot.

    Yeah. I think it’s double doors for me.

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