A year on from its $1-billion investment in artificial intelligence company Argo A.I., Ford has started testing its self-driving technology on the sunny streets of Miami.
The Michigan-based automaker is keen to test a range of business models with its autonomous kit, starting with delivery partnerships with Domino’s Pizza and Postmates, before digging deeper into its ridesharing ambitions that could involve the launch of a fully autonomous vehicle in 2021.
In a blog post this week, Sherif Marakby, Ford’s VP of autonomous vehicles and electrification, said that with the delivery plan, the company wants to learn more about how its driverless technology can be effectively utilized. It’ll involve analysis of customer interaction with its self-driving vehicle when they collect their items, and how far they’re willing to walk to meet a delivery in case difficult road conditions prevent the car from parking near to the destination address.
Delivery drivers stopping in unsuitable spots in busy areas can cause traffic jams, and with Miami the tenth most congested city in the world and the fifth most congested in the U.S., local officials are keen for change.
Ford’s pizza delivery vehicle, complete with onboard engineers to monitor their progress, is already tootling about the streets of Miami and Miami Beach. A video (above) shows a customer collecting her pizza by tapping in a code on a display attached to the car. The Postmates vehicle is set to hit the road in the coming weeks and will offer a similar kind of service.
The major project also involves the establishment of what Ford describes as its very first “autonomous vehicle operations terminal” to ensure that a future commercial fleet of autonomous vehicles is securely housed and well maintained. Located a short distance from downtown Miami, the site will include facilities to wash the vehicles, including their all-important sensors, with routine maintenance also carried out.
“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,” Marakby said.
The executive also promised that alongside its efforts to research customer satisfaction with driverless delivery platforms, it’s continuing with the development of its self-driving technology by expanding testing in partnership with Argo A.I.
Marakby said a fleet of Argo vehicles is already on the streets of Miami, “mapping the roads and accumulating miles that will help us improve the way they move through cities.” This important time spent in real-world situations will help Argo’s technology learn about the driving habits of local residents and help it process Miami’s road rules to ensure safe and efficient journeys.
The Miami project certainly appears to be a more sophisticated effort compared to its recent self-driving research in Arlington, Virginia, when it sent out a vehicle with a man inside dressed as a car seat. There was, however, a serious purpose behind the seemingly wacky stunt, with Ford explaining it wanted to learn more about how people reacted to self-driving cars with a view to modifying the vehicle’s design to include features that could help it interact better with pedestrians.