Ford's Self-Driving Delivery Business Heads to Miami for Testing

Ford's Self-Driving Delivery Business Heads to Miami for Testing

Author: Eric Walz   

MIAMI —  The Ford Motor Co has been busy putting the pieces together for its self-driving delivery business. The company has spent the past several years researching and developing its self-driving technology, studying customer behaviors, and serving some of the largest fleets in the country. Now, Ford will begin testing its self-driving business efforts in Miami, Florida.

"With the help of Miami-Dade County, we're taking our service directly to the streets of Miami and Miami Beach.", Ford wrote in a blog post. Ford has the support of the Miami Dade Mayor.

"Mayor Carlos A. Giménez is a champion of innovative technology to help improve life for residents of the county. The mayor on the forefront of thinking about the future of transportation, leading a county that already offers a diverse set of transportation modes ranging from ride-hailing services and rail to buses and bike sharing. He understands the potential of self-driving vehicles and how they can fit in, interact with, and enhance all of those modes and more."

Miami was recently listed as the 10th most congested city in the world, according to the Inrix Global Traffic Scorecard, and the fifth most congested city in the United States. Miami commuters spend an average of 64 hours in congestion per year during peak time periods — or nearly 10 percent of their total drive time. Ford says its setting out to solve for this problem for Miami commuters.

To understand what Miami-Dade residents would experience with self-driving vehicle service, Ford's next step involves pilot programs throughout the year with its partners, starting with Domino's Pizza delivery and Postmates. The customer experience research gathered will be applied to the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that Ford plans to launch in 2021 to support the expansion of its service.

Ford is studying the ways customers will interact with its services. Some of the questions Ford hopes to answer include: "Before a self-driving vehicle makes a pizza delivery from Domino's, how will employees stock it and send it off?" Or, "Once the self-driving vehicle reaches it destination how will customers interact with the vehicle to retrieve their food or groceries, and how far from their homes are they willing to walk to pick up an autonomously delivered order?"

Another important question for Ford is: "What benefits could and should people get from a self-driving experience?" Ford is considering many variables associated with its self-driving business, including the costs of convenience.


A Ford Self-Driving Delivery Car

Today, deliveries can be made to someone's door, though there is usually an extra charge involved. Often delivery drivers illegally double-park when they can't find a space, potentially causing traffic congestion for others. A self-driving vehicle won't need to be tipped and it won't park illegally. So, from the outset Ford hopes to understand there are both hurdles and benefits to self-driving delivery in cities and the company intends to learn all of it, so that it can serve people in a way that's most intuitive and convenient.

Ford's Domino's pilot is already up and running in Miami, and the company is finalizing plans to launch a service with Postmates next month.

Partnership with Argo AI

In parallel to creating the best customer experience possible, Ford will continue to develop the self-driving technology powering its vehicles by expanding testing in partnership with Argo AI, the AI company that Ford invested $1 billion for a joint partnership in 2017.

Operating a self-driving business in any new city such as Miami requires a comprehensive understanding of local laws and the unique driving habits of residents. Argo will contribute this expertise to the partnership.

Ford says a new fleet of Argo vehicles is already on the streets, mapping the roads and accumulating miles that will help us improve the way they move through cities. The effort will grow throughout the year as Ford adds vehicles and expand areas of testing.

Another issue Ford will address is the maintenance of its fleet of vehicles after they spend long hours on the road. These vehicles will need to be maintained, repaired and cleaned, requiring space and additional manpower.

To address this, Ford is opening a autonomous vehicle operations terminal in Miami. The terminal will be the base where Ford will develop its vehicle management processes and house the test fleet. The vehicles will be washed and have their cameras and sensors cleaned while otherroutine maintenance can be conducted, including troubleshooting problems that may arise.

To further support is autonomous fleet of vehicles, Ford will also leverage its extensive dealer network in the area, looking for ways to integrate and incorporate their operations and capabilities into its operations terminal.

Ford dealers will help with repairs and conduct parts deliveries and other services. "Before thousands of self-driving vehicles can hit the streets, we have to be prepared to manage large, high-tech fleets efficiently, and the steps we're taking in Miami represent a significant stride in that process." Ford wrote.

After working out numerous logistics and developing different techniques to navigate a future of self-driving cars, Ford is taking to the streets of Miami-Dade, to see how well its business performs.

"By bringing all of our different development tracks together to test in unison, we're putting ourselves in the best position to analyze our execution, determine what works well and improve what doesn't. This way, we can quickly expand our service and take it to other cities when the time comes." Ford wrote in their blog.

The development of self-driving vehicles hints at a whole new way of moving people and goods. Ford says its eager to connecting with the people of Miami-Dade County and becoming part of the local community and build a service they can people can confidently rely on everyday.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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