Ford wants to know how people interact with autonomous cars, even if this van isn't autonomous.
Ford is among the many automakers taking on the challenge of building autonomous vehicles. Instead of working out the sensors or algorithms to make this possible, the Blue Oval's new test in cooperation with food delivery service Postmates in Miami focuses on how people interact interact with these models in a delicious way – bringing folks tacos.
The fleet of Ford Transit Connect test vehicles look autonomous to bystanders, but there's actually a human behind the wheel driving like any other van. What makes these vehicles special is in the back.
When people order from certain restaurants Miami and Miami Beach, they have the option to take delivery from the (not-so) autonomous test vehicle. When the food is ready to go, a restaurant employee goes to the Transit and types a code into a touch screen to open one of the lockers in the side or rear of the van.
When the Transit arrives at its destination, the person waiting for food gets a text message. Audio prompts and lights direct the buyer to the correct locker. The hungry client enters a code and retrieves the meal.
Gallery: Ford Miami Autonomous Vehicle Test
Ford is using Miami as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. For example, it also uses self-driving test models there for Dominos pizza deliveries. The Blue Oval believes the Florida city is an ideal spot for developing the technology because the weather is generally perfect. Plus as the tenth most congested city in the world, Miami offers plenty of traffic to negotiate.
The Blue Oval intends to have a level 4 autonomous car ready for 2021, but the model would only be for car sharing. However, Ford doesn't believe that the tech would be ready for consumer sales until 2026 at the earliest.
Gallery: Ford Transit Connect Autonomous Test Vehicle
Let’s Give Them Something to Taco ‘Bout: Enabling Self-Driving Food Delivery With Postmates
It’s a familiar feeling. The day inches towards dinner and your stomach makes a simple, direct plea to your heart: You want tacos. That hand pressed corn tortilla, the tangy salsa and fresh cilantro — you’re getting hungry already!
But what if ordering tacos did more than just satisfy the gremlin in your gut? What if it actually…shaped the future?
Ford is working with Postmates, an on-demand delivery platform, to operate a self-driving delivery service.
Research vehicles for our business pilots are designed to appear as self-driving, however, they are manually driven by an experienced driver. The focus of our research is on the first and last mile of the delivery experience. We are developing our self-driving technology in separate test vehicles.
Our Postmates pilot is currently underway in Miami and Miami Beach with more than 70 businesses participating, including local favorites like Coyo Taco. For residents in the area, when you order tacos — or almost anything, really — through Postmates, you may be given the option to have your items delivered by a self-driving research vehicle.
What does that mean? It’s easier to show than to tell, so let’s examine the future of food delivery enabled by self-driving technology.
Some things don’t change — when your meal is ready to be delivered, a restaurant employee will place it in the vehicle. (Surprise! You ordered tacos.)
We designed a Transit Connect for this pilot program with a locker system to secure your food and allow us to serve multiple customers on one delivery route.
Additionally, services like Postmates must deliver an assortment of products from sushi restaurants to hardware stores. Therefore, the rear and passenger-side lockers are different sizes to allow us to test optimal vehicle configuration. Ultimately, we are testing how businesses and consumers interact with a self-driving vehicle.
This Ford Transit Connect self-driving research vehicle features three lockers — one on the passenger side and two in the back — that can deliver both food and goods.
After the restaurant employee types his access code into the screen, one of the lockers will automatically open so that he can place the food inside. Each locker has two cup holders so that you don’t have to worry about losing half your beverage in transit.
When the vehicle arrives at its destination, the customer receives a text notification indicating the delivery is ready for pickup.
Upon meeting the vehicle at the curb, consumers enter an access code into the touch screen and the appropriate locker will open. Audio prompts direct the interaction and lights will illuminate the designated locker. We’re making interactions with the vehicle as easy as possible through various sensory technologies built into the Transit Connect.
This is our first self-driving research vehicle modified specifically to test a variety of interfaces — the touch screen, the locker system, the external audio system— to inform the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that’s scheduled to arrive in 2021.
Ultimately, through our partnership with Postmates, we’re testing methods for efficient deliveries to help local businesses expand their reach and provide a seamless experience to customers.
If you have the opportunity to check out the self-driving experience, jump at the chance to contribute to the future of delivery. And equally important — don’t forget to enjoy your meal!