Ford is testing autonomous vehicles with delivery service Postmates in the Miami area. The catch is, the cars’ automation is merely simulated to gather feedback from customers about the experience. A driver is hiding behind tinted glass.
The reality is Ford is testing car configurations. With three lockers, the Ford vans in Miami will roll up and open the appropriate locker for the customer. The question is whether people will be unnerved by driverless cars, but we suspect the findings will be that a three-locker vehicle will be hard-pressed to operate efficiently. Since customers must leave their house and walk to the van, the challenges are letting people know when the delivery is available and how quickly the van can move on to the next stop.
The next time you order food from Postmates in Miami or Miami Beach, don’t be too surprised if you have to grab your Cuban sandwiches from what looks like a self-driving van. Ford’s latest autonomous delivery test is underway, as the automaker has partnered with Postmates to bring you goods from more than 70 local businesses. But there’s actually a driver behind the tinted windows — Ford says the Transit Connects give the appearance that they’re autonomous vehicles.
Ford today announced a partnership with Postmates to expand on-demand services for small business at CES. Postmates reports that SMBs joining its network see “4X revenue growth” and claims it has the most extensive on-demand delivery fleet in the U.S. A variety of companies will enter this space in 2018, among them HERE Technologies which announced a competing service that aggregates on-demand mobility options yesterday.
“Expanding access to smaller, local merchants is at the core of our business,” Vivek Patel, Postmate’s vice president of Business Operations, said. “We view self-driving vehicles as another potential tool that can level the playing field for these businesses, and ensure that geography alone does not equal destiny.”
We applaud the focus on small business. It is where the on-demand economy can take root and develop opportunities in every community.
Delivery without people remains problematic, as it is the last few yards or flights of stairs that presents the most significant barrier to automated deliveries. Sure, a car can get to the curb in front of an address, but how to get the package inside with the appropriate brand experience, requires a human. Postmates will likely utilize Ford autonomous vehicles to streamline its workers’ travel. The companies are working together on how to support the last-yard fulfillment, as well as improve consumer discovery of, and purchases, through automated deliveries.