By Navin Kumar, Director, AV Business, Ford AV LLC
At Ford, we believe self-driving vehicles will help make a positive impact in our communities by providing greater access to transportation and delivery services. Since establishing our self-driving operations in our first launch city, Miami, Florida, collaboration has been central to our approach. We’ve been working closely with local officials and the community to understand how our service offerings can integrate within the existing transportation system and how it can provide value.
To do this, we are conducting pilots that will help us stand up our self-driving business. At the same time, we also wanted to find a way to help the community as it deals with the challenges of the global pandemic. That’s why we recently teamed up with The Education Fund, a local non-profit in Miami-Dade County, building on previous business pilots to now conduct deliveries with our self-driving vehicles in autonomous mode.
What we’re doing: The pilot we are operating with Argo AI supports The Education Fund’s Food Forests for Schools program, which has food forests at local Miami-Dade schools to promote healthy eating by growing fresh fruits and vegetables for school cafeterias and for students to take home to their families.
The Ford Motor Company Fund has been a long-time supporter of The Education Fund. With the ongoing pandemic restricting widespread access to these schools and food forests, Ford and our self-driving technology provider Argo AI offered to deploy our self-driving test vehicles to make contactless deliveries from the Food Forests to students and their families.
How we’re making deliveries: As part of the eight-week program, Ford and Argo AI are delivering fresh bags of produce to approximately 50 students and their families each week in our Ford Fusion Hybrid self-driving test vehicles.
· Upon arriving at the school, bags of freshly harvested produce are loaded into the test vehicles, which continue on their daily delivery route autonomously.
· As the vehicle operates on its route, there are two Argo AI test specialists — one behind the wheel and one in the passenger seat — monitoring our self-driving test vehicles and the road ahead at all times, ready to take over if necessary.
· At each drop-off location, one of the Argo AI test specialists makes a contactless delivery.
Why is this important? In addition to helping the community in a time of need, this pilot is helping us develop our moving goods service. With each delivery we complete through this pilot, we gain a deeper understanding about how our self-driving services can help organizations and businesses fulfill delivery orders in a safe, reliable, and trusted manner.
Here are a few things we’re learning: This is the first time we’ve integrated the self-driving capabilities from Argo AI with our customer facing partnerships. This is giving us meaningful real-world insights into what is required to run an efficient business.
· With real obligations to those expecting deliveries at a specific location and within a certain timeframe, we’re refining our ability to coordinate our operations efficiently to meet our customer commitments.
· We’re gaining a better understanding of who we’re serving, where deliveries are being made, and how long the loading and drop-off processes take. This gives us information to better streamline our operations for an optimized service.
This pilot also represents a great opportunity to continue improving the self-driving system with Argo AI.
· The homes we serve are in the general vicinity of our everyday testing locations. With this pilot, we are refining the self-driving system as we find specific locations to make a delivery, park properly and ensure the delivery is made safely.
· We are delivering goods to a variety of locations, including high-rises, duplexes and small apartment buildings. We’re seeing scenarios with curbside access, driveways, parking lots, and sometimes locations without a place to park. We see traffic and densely populated areas, as well as residential locations.
· All these operations expose the self-driving system to new scenarios throughout the day, allowing our partners at Argo AI to continue to improve the self-driving software and how it safely navigates the area it is serving.
What’s next: Based on the success of this service, we will continue to expand and refine our moving goods business with similar pilots in 2021. Our collaboration with The Education Fund has proven to be a great partnership to give back to the community and is ultimately preparing us to launch a trusted self-driving commercial service.
Doing Good By Moving Goods: Helping The Education Fund in Miami Deliver Food Autonomously was originally published in Self-Driven on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.