Ford has announced it will launch an autonomous car testing program in Miami, preparing to operate a fleet of autonomous taxis in the area eventually. The automaker made public some time ago that it plans to have self-driving Ford vehicles on the street by 2021.
One of the aspects Ford is focusing on at the moment is the building of a terminal and the development of an efficient fleet operation system. The Miami terminal will serve to maintain and function as a center of operations for the driverless vehicle fleet, which will include both delivery cars and taxis.
To test out the delivery service, Ford is partnering with Domino’s Pizza and Postmates, a company that offers on-demand deliveries in the Miami area. Initially, Ford plans to monitor interactions between users and self-driving delivery vehicles. It will also analyze interactions between the vehicles and other drivers, and pedestrians, along delivery routes.
The simplest things will be under scrutiny, from the timing of loading and the placement of the pizzas inside the vehicles to how the system will ensure all the pizzas for a particular route have been successfully loaded.
Of course, Ford also wants to learn whether customers will be comfortable with walking to the cars to get their pizzas, or if they prefer a delivery person to go all the way to their front door. In addition, the company will assess how many times a car needs to go back for maintenance, how often sensors must be calibrated, and how often the interiors will need to be cleaned.
Ford believes logistics are the key to making self-driving taxis work, and it is trying to put their money where their (corporate) mouth is. Ford’s most valuable partnerships for the endeavor include one with seasoned ride-sharing company Lyft and another one with Argo AI, a self-driving car startup in which Ford invested heavily last year.
Ford’s fleet operations center will find its home in Wynwood, an eclectic neighborhood in Miami’s downtown area. All the information gathered during testing will be shared with Ford and Argo engineers, based in Pittsburgh and Detroit, who will use it to fine-tune the technology.
Ford executives anticipate using the same cars for both deliveries and passenger rides. According to Ford’s head of global markets, “In this early stage of AV technology, as far as the business is concerned, running the vehicle at really high utilization rate for most of the day is going to be key.”
John Uustal is a Ft. Lauderdale trial lawyer with a national law practice focused on serious injuries resulting from dangerous and poorly designed products. His upcoming book, Corporate Serial Killers, focuses on companies that choose profits over safety.