By Alex Buznego, Miami Autonomous Vehicle Market Manager, Ford Motor Company
Miami Thrice! It’s now been three years since Miami-Dade became the first place in the world where Ford Motor Company would test and commercialize its new self-driving services. The journey so far has been one marked by progress. Our goal? That Miamians will soon have the ability to hail a ride or receive a delivery in a way that is safe, consistent, valued and efficient.
What have we been up to? Our partners at Argo AI have been developing the self-driving technology to build a ride experience that feels natural on the streets of Miami-Dade. On our side of the equation, Ford has been building the various elements needed for a business of this nature, including our Transportation-as-a-Service software (TaaS), our fleet operations, the user experience, the vehicle, and the business collaborations with the brands that will be able to leverage our fleets and services. In the past three years, Ford and Argo AI have also come to know our fellow Miamians really well. We’ve learned the roads, the driving habits and the incredible opportunities in store for the future of The Magic City.
Here’s some of the progress we’ve made to commercialization over the last three years:
1. We’ve taken business pilots from the page to the roads: Running pilot programs has been a priority for us — from testing food delivery with popular brands, to grocery delivery with both major retailers and even local nonprofits like The Education Fund. These projects have provided us with invaluable real world insights to build the customer experience, the business models, the operations and our TaaS software.
· How it started: Three years ago, we started using simulated self-driving vehicles that were manually driven to deliver food, groceries, retail goods, dry cleaning and flowers working both with local businesses and larger brands. We were able to collect meaningful user experience research to understand how customers interacted with a self-driving vehicle to receive deliveries. It was a great way for us to prototype and test ideas quickly in the field.
· How it’s going: Today, we’ve integrated our business pilot programs with Argo AI’s self-driving test vehicles to conduct delivery pilots in autonomous mode. We’re also building our software integration and fleet management capabilities with ride hail and delivery service pilots. Each trip request or goods delivery helps us gain a deeper understanding of how our self-driving services need to be designed and positioned to help us deliver on our goal of operating safe, consistent, valued, efficient and trusted services.
2. We’ve established our footprint: Managing a fleet of vehicles requires space — and lots of it. To support our commercial services after launch, as well as our current testing operations, we’ve established a real estate footprint that allows us to help ensure our fleets are fueled, serviced, cleaned, sanitized, calibrated and optimized to provide the best service possible.
· How it started: In early 2018, we established our first terminal in Wynwood. This has served as the base for our self-driving vehicle testing operations for the past three years.
· How it’s going: We recently established a second facility near Miami International Airport, a large facility we refer to as our Command Center. This space will be the epicenter of our local self-driving business operations housing both our business office and daily fleet operations. That’s not all. This month, we also established a third facility, a terminal in South Beach to further support both our testing and commercial operations.
3. We’ve expanded testing: Miami-Dade is one of the most challenging cities to test the Argo AI self-driving system (SDS). As us locals like to say: “If you can drive in Miami, you can drive anywhere.” By exposing the SDS to the unique and challenging situations in Miami, we are able to scale to future cities safely and quickly, which is key to building a successful service. Every day, Argo AI encounters a variety of scenarios that we don’t experience in other cities. Miami is known for heavy traffic, fast driving cars and many pedestrians and cyclists.
· How it started: When we announced Miami as our first launch market, we began mapping and testing around a square mile in Wynwood, and expanded over time.
· How it’s going: Today, we also operate across some of the most populated areas of the county, including South Beach and downtown — two areas where we expect to see great consumer demand for our services.
What We’ve Heard from Miami-Dade: Collaboration from the community is core to Ford’s approach and we’ve had the great fortune of collaborating with some great folks from local government, from the community, and even local talent we’ve hired to join the Ford family.
· “We are proud to be the first home to a company like Ford that is pioneering the future in this community and doing so in a collaborative nature from day one. It is energizing to see how we can introduce innovative and technology-based solutions developed around our residents’ needs and not the other way around. Am thrilled to be on this journey with the Ford family and looking ahead with optimism.” said Carlos Cruz-Casas, Assistant Director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Transportation & Public Works.” — Carlos Cruz Casas, Assistant Director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Transportation & Public Works
· “The Ford AV team is the perfect partner for deliveries! In my 30+ years working with corporate partners, I’ve never seen a more agile team. I expected the traditional months of back & forth before getting any traction. Instead The Education Fund experienced a team that moves quickly and thoughtfully to deliver on their promises. Our low-income students and their families are the beneficiaries of Ford’s amazing community spirit with 400+ perfect deliveries of our free Food Forest fresh produce and household & learning supplies. Ford Motor Company is certainly doing good by moving goods!” — Linda Lecht, President, The Education Fund
· “I started with the company as an overnight security guard since the summer of 2018. Now, I’m the Service Technician Coordinator for Ford’s self-driving vehicle fleet operations. When the Terminal first opened in Wynwood, we were operating only a few self-driving test vehicles. Now look at us in 2021, operating a large self-driving test fleet. My journey here has been amazing. To watch the fleet operations grow to the standards where we are now… it’s just awesome!” — Sherman Bradwell, Service Technician Coordinator, Ford Autonomous Vehicle Terminals
1. We’re rolling out our fourth-generation self-driving vehicles. In the coming months, we will be integrating our fourth-generation Escape Hybrid vehicles into our Miami-Dade fleet. The Escape Hybrid is also the platform Miamians can expect to see when we bring our services online.
2. We’re building our team of South Floridians. Today, we have over 70 Ford and Argo AI employees in Miami-Dade that support our testing, operations and business office. We will continue to grow our local team over the next few years as we prepare for our service launch and subsequent scaling. Want a front row seat? Miamians can check out our current openings here.
3. We’re continuing to collaborate. Our hope is to always be as collaborative and inclusive with Miamians as possible. We will also continue working closely with Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, the City of Miami Beach, the State of Florida and the community at large. To this end, if you have an idea, suggestion or want to learn more or participate in a future pilot program, you can reach me here: MiamiAV@Ford.com
We’re being thoughtful about the services we are creating, ensuring we keep safety at the forefront. While we still have work to do before these services are available to Miamians, we are committed to transparency and to earning the trust of our fellow South Floridians so you feel confident in the mobility services we are building.
The Ford Journey in Miami-Dade Reaches a Milestone: Three Years in Our First Self-Driving City was originally published in Self-Driven on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.