Ford Launches Self-Driving Car Delivery Service in Florida

The automaker is teaming up with Domino's and Postmates.

Ford

Many companies believe ride sharing will be the first major commercial use of self-driving cars, but Ford thinks delivery services might be a good fit as well. The Blue Oval is now putting that concept to the test in Florida.

Ford has secured an agreement with Miami-Date County to operate a delivery service using self-driving cars on the streets of Miami and Miami Beach. The automaker chose this Florida locale because it had a cooperative local government, and enough traffic to demonstrate the potential benefits of self-driving cars, Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president, autonomous vehicles and electrification, wrote in a Medium post. Miami is the 10th most congested city in the world and the fifth most congested city in the United States, according to the Inrix Global Traffic Scorecard.

Under the pilot program, Ford self-driving cars will perform deliveries for Domino's and Postmates. This will help provide real-world feedback that will influence the design of Ford's first production self-driving car due in 2021, Marakby said. Ford plans to expand its autonomous delivery service once that car launches.

The Florida pilot will help answer fundamental questions, like how customers will pick up and pay for their items without a human delivery person. It's hard to see how Ford and its delivery service partners will solve those problems, though. Since cars can't drive into buildings, customers may have to walk outside to get their deliveries. But the self-driving cars won't need to be tipped, Marakby said.

Ford's Miami Domino's pilot is already "up and running," Marakby said, and the company expects to finalize plans with Postmates in March. The automaker is also working with startup Argo AI to map Miami-area roads and conduct additional testing. A dedicated autonomous-vehicle terminal near downtown Miami will handle maintenance, and will be supported by local Ford dealers.

Whether they're for delivery services or ride sharing, many companies are discussing building businesses around self-driving cars. But Ford's pilot could be the first large-scale demonstration of how those businesses could actually work. By focusing on the real-world logistics of self-driving cars rather than just the technology, Ford is really putting autonomous driving to the test.