Ford today shed light on its autonomous delivery partnership with startup Postmates in Miami and Miami Beach, Florida. The pilot program, which launched in March, allows users to place orders from 70 businesses, including local favorites like Coyo Taco.
Ford Transit Connect cars with multiple lockers, speakers that provide audible instructions, a touchscreen, and two cupholders perform multiple deliveries in a single route. Businesses receive codes that allow employees to place goods in the vehicles’ locking storage compartments, and customers get text messages with an access code when their order arrives.
The cars aren’t fully autonomous, to be clear — human drivers are behind the wheel. They’re intended to test “how businesses and consumers interact with [prototypical] self-driving vehicles,” Ford explained.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to make interaction with self-driving vehicles as easy as possible,” the automaker said. “Through our collaboration with Postmates, we’re testing different methods for efficient deliveries to help local businesses expand their reach and provide a seamless experience to customers.”
In a Medium post in February, Sherif Marakby, vice president of Ford’s autonomous vehicles division, wrote that the automaker would establish a self-driving vehicle operations center in downtown Miami and that Ford would work with local dealers to integrate their operations into the terminal.
Marakby also said that Ford is collaborating with Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to map city streets and improve its self-driving technology.
“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.
Ford’s pilot in Miami is an expansion of its partnership with Dominos in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Miami, Florida, which kicked off in August 2017. The shuttles in that program feature a slightly different design and are equipped with GPS that customers can use to track the delivery process.
Ford has its work cut out for it. The increasingly competitive autonomous delivery market includes heavy hitters like Starship Technologies, which recently announced a $25 million funding round, and Nuro, a self-driving car company that counts ex-Waymo employees among its executives.
“The development of self-driving vehicles hints at a whole new way of moving people and goods, but it doesn’t change our way of doing business — placing the customer above all else,” Marakby wrote.
Ford executives have previously said they expect the company to launch a self-driving shuttle fleet in 2021.