Ford and Postmates Will Test Autonomous Delivery Vehicles

Will self-driving cars carry more packages than people?

At CES 2018, Ford announced that it will team up with Postmates to test autonomous delivery vehicles. The project builds on Ford’s test of an autonomous Domino’s pizza delivery vehicle and shows another possible use for self-driving cars beyond carrying passengers.

Postmates is an on-demand delivery service that carries packages between any two locations users choose. Self-driving cars could be a boon to this type of service, Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, said in a blog post announcing the partnership. On-demand autonomous delivery vehicles will help “loosen the grip of geography” and help small businesses serve a wider array of customers, Marakby said.

Ford and Postmates will conduct pilot programs with self-driving cars throughout the year, Marakby said. The two companies will specifically focus on how both merchants and customers react to the use of autonomous vehicles. The goal is to make self-driving cars a regular part of Postmates’ operations.

While much of the initial talk surrounding self-driving cars centered on ride sharing, Ford and other companies are investigating local deliveries as another possible option. Last year, Ford turned one of its prototype self-driving cars into a delivery vehicle for Domino’s.  Ford has hinted that its upcoming autonomous production car, due in 2021, will be designed with delivery services in mind.

Postmates has tested autonomous delivery vehicles before, but they were small robots rather than cars. British online supermarket Ocado has tested autonomous delivery as well. At CES 2018, Toyota unveiled the e-Palette concept, a box on wheels that can be easily converted from carrying passengers to carrying cargo. That flexibility will let companies get more out of their autonomous-vehicle investments, and it could shorten the technology’s path to mainstream acceptance.

Sharing the road with self-driving cars and actually riding in one yourself are two different things. Getting skeptical people to sign up for an autonomous ride-sharing service may be difficult, but bags of groceries aren’t capable of anxiety. Given that, delivery services might be a better option for deploying the first self-driving cars than ride sharing.