Ford has launched its first self-driving vehicle business in Miami and Miami Beach as it takes steps to test the ability for autonomous cars to deliver people and goods.
By teaming with Postmates and Domino's, Ford can test and research the customer experience with autonomous delivery. It will examine how customers will interact with a self-driving car to get food or groceries, such as how far they're willing to walk, and what they enjoy about the experience. Additional partners will be announced in the future, said Sherif Marakby, vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification for Ford.
At the same time, Ford will continue to develop autonomous technology by expanding testing in partnership with Argo AI, which already has vehicles on the road mapping Miami's streets and studying the driving habits of Miami residents.
This is the third city where Argo AI is developing its technology. It's already been operating in Pittsburgh, PA and Dearborn, MI, Marakby said.
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"This is the first time we're bringing the business and the technology together, and one of the big enablers that's allowing us to do this is the work with the city, which has been outstanding. There's been a very progressive view from the mayor and the city and county to really work with us, to understand the challenges of the city, understanding the congestion. Miami is known for a lot of congestion and recently claimed to be number five in the country for congestion. So, we're working with the city and we're bringing the right kind of autonomous business together," Marakby said.
Ford first began working with Domino's in August 2017 with self-driving vehicles delivering pizza and other food in Ann Arbor, MI. The deliveries were done in a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle. Those deliveries were done with a driver in the car, but everything else simulated an autonomous vehicle delivery experience, with the driver not interacting with the customer. The Miami deliveries will be done in the same manner to ensure that the customer deals with the car as an autonomous vehicle, Marakby said.
Ford is also establishing its first autonomous vehicle operations terminal close to downtown Miami, and it will house fleet vehicles for developing Ford's vehicle management process.
"In order for us to service and be able to bring technology back everyday for the engineers and the technicians to work on, in addition to servicing the vehicles that we're going to be running with multiple businesses, there's going to be a lot of vehicles. So, it's important for us as part of our strategy to run an autonomous business is to actually manage the fleet of vehicles across different partners. So, we identified and actually moved into a terminal in the Wynwood area of Miami, which is a trendy area of Miami, but it's also ideal because it's only a couple miles from downtown. So, the location is perfect for us to operate from. So, that's what we're doing. We have our team that already moved in and starting up that terminal to operate from," Marakby said.
The end goal is that Ford will have a purpose-built self-driving vehicle ready by 2021 and it will scale in multiple cities at the same time.
"We hope that that's the outcome of all of this to make it better, easier, faster, cheaper for the customers to get their goods. Postmates is a good partner from the standpoint that they deliver anything to anywhere. It's not just one type of moving goods. It allows us to learn a lot, but it also allows us to modify the business as we work with them with autonomy," Marakby said.
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Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.