- Ford is testing delivery services using self-driving vehicles in downtown Miami and Miami Beach, said Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electrification, in a Medium post.
- The automaker's pilot program in partnership with Domino's already is underway in Miami, and it will launch another with Postmates delivery in March. The tests will aim to answer operational questions about driverless delivery services and how AVs will interact with humans both on the front and back ends of the trip.
- The company is also establishing its first AV operations terminal near downtown Miami, which will be the home base for AV storage and maintenance.
Ford plans to release its first AV in 2021, but a lot of research and testing is needed before the vehicles — and the public — are ready. "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 in the blog post.
AVs offer a whole new way of transporting goods, and eventually people. As with any new concept, testing is a way to prevent dangerous situations or major concept flaws that could cause a new product or service to flop.
With the Miami pilot programs, Ford is trying to determine the overall customer benefits of self-driving vehicles, as well as small operational details. It wants to see how employees will stock and send out delivery AVs, as well as how customers will retrieve their food or goods. The whole point of delivery services is convenience, so one of the big points Ford will observe is how far customers are willing to walk to get their goods. Throughout the pilot, developers will also observe human reactions and interactions with the AVs while they're traveling on the streets.
AV delivery services eventually could be honed to the point that they can transfer to human "deliveries" as well, or rather, provide self-driving taxi services. Additional rounds of testing certainly are necessary before companies will feel comfortable transporting humans.
Miami provides a favorable testbed not only because of its weather, but also because it has driving challenges that will be good for the AVs to encounter. The area consistently is ranked one of the most congested in the country, and its drivers are known for being aggressive. It's important for AVs to be able to handle such challenges before hitting the streets on their own, and real-life situations in the Miami area will offer a better test than an isolated testing facility could.