Report: Ford’s First Self-delivery Vehicles to Operate in Fleets That will Service Businesses and Consumers

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Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn today released a report, “A Matter of Trust: Ford’s Approach to Developing Self-driving Vehicles,” that reveals its autonomous vehicles won’t initially be sold to customers in the way that cars are today. The automaker plans to introduce its first self-driving vehicles in 2021.

Rather, Ford’s autonomous vehicles will be operated as commercial fleets offering mobility services accessed by a smartphone such as ride-hailing and goods delivery. “We believe we can offer the best value to our customers by providing the technology through a fleet service, similar to the way Ford currently offers specially-engineered vehicles for taxi and police fleets,” the report states.

The automaker states self-driving vehicles can enhance the shopping experience and help extend product availability and affordability — with a particular focus on operating in areas that are underserved by transit options — and support people that may not be able to drive themselves due to age or disability.

“In the realm of goods delivery, we see opportunity to help the increasing demand generated by the convenience of ordering from large online retailers,” the report states. “There is also potential to support small- and medium-sized local businesses that may want to take advantage of delivery services but don’t have the ability to tap into complex and expensive logistics systems.

“We can help small businesses that may not be able to afford a dedicated delivery vehicle or medium-sized businesses that may have an underutilized vehicle that is a financial burden on their operations. These types of businesses could choose to use our autonomous vehicles instead.

“People will hail self-driving ride shares to avoid parking costs and traffic frustrations. Shoppers will seek efficient, effortless delivery via self-driving services. We believe that people and packages can move faster and more affordably in the self-driving future.

To learn about the potential of self-driving vehicles to enable goods delivery, Ford recently announced it is working with Postmates to research an on-demand delivery platform. The pilot is currently underway in Miami and Miami Beach with more than 70 local businesses participating.

For the pilot, Ford designed a Transit Connect van with an interior locker system to secure deliveries for multiple customers on one delivery route. The focus of the research is on the first and last mile of the delivery experience, testing how businesses and consumers interact with a self-driving vehicle.

The report also recognizes a shift from individual vehicle ownership to the use of shared mobility options such as ride-hailing services. The report states most of today’s infrastructure was built to meet the needs of individually used vehicles. However, most of those vehicles sit idle about 95 percent of the time. In turn, as much as 30 percent of the real estate in city centers are devoted to parking.

Ford recently created a City Solutions team dedicated to working closely with cities and communities to address the challenges. “We’re learning how each city works, what its needs are, and how our technology can adapt and support each city’s unique transportation system,” the report states. “We’re developing a portfolio of solutions that can help a city improve its transportation system through better orchestration of traffic, transit, and the ever-growing mobility options emerging every day.

To help introduce its fleet of autonomous delivery vehicles, Ford is developing map imagery created by a self-driving vehicle’s sensors as safety operators manually drive test vehicles throughout a city. During the initial drives, sensors built in to the vehicle scan the roads, sidewalks, and buildings allowing for the creation of a 3D map.

The base map is annotated with relevant traffic regulations and guidance, including road edges, directions of travel, speed limits, traffic signals, stop signs, crosswalks, and yielding relationships. The map forms the basis of a complex system of perception and tracking, so the on-board computing system can use it to understand the static world before it even starts driving autonomously.

The full report is available here.

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