Working with Education Fund, a collection of nonprofits working in the U.S. and elsewhere to improve the quality of education, Ford and Pittsburgh-based autonomous auto startup Argo AI have teamed up to bring contactless delivery in Do Ford’s Fusion Hybrid yourself – drive test vehicles. The pilot’s launch, which takes place in Miami, comes as Ford continues to build an autonomous hail and goods delivery service in Miami-Dade County.
Some experts predict the coronavirus outbreak will accelerate the rollout of driverless vehicles for delivery. A study published by CarGurus found that 39% of people after the pandemic did not use human-operated lifts for fear of inadequate sanitation. Despite public concerns about the road safety of driverless cars and their need for regular disinfection, they promise to minimize the risk of disease spreading as they inherently limit driver-driver contact.
Ford says Argo will be making weekly contactless deliveries of food and school supplies provided by the Education Fund’s Food Forests for Schools program for eight weeks. These will reach the families of approximately 50 students attending Feinberg Fisher K-8 in Miami Beach and Riverside Elementary School in Little Havana. After the Ford and Argo teams have picked up the bags at each school, the deliveries are made in Ford’s self-driving Ford Fusions with two test specialists.
As the self-driving cars advance on their route, the two specialists – one behind the steering wheel and one in the passenger seat – will monitor the vehicles and the road, which Ford says are ready to take over if necessary. One of the Argo test specialists delivers contactlessly at each delivery point. Argo claims to be working with city and state officials and plans to require social distancing, initiate regular cleaning, and provide personal protective equipment, as well as HEPA-certified filters, air circulation devices, and physical barriers in vehicle cabins.
Navin Kumar, business director for autonomous vehicles at Ford, says the pilot will give Argo the opportunity to refine its self-driving system. Among other things, the cars need to find specific places to make a delivery, park properly, and ensure that delivery is safe. You’ll also encounter a number of locations including high-rise buildings, maisonettes, and small apartment buildings, some with no curb or driveway access, as well as traffic in densely populated areas and residential areas.
“With every delivery we complete through this pilot, we gain a deeper understanding of how our self-driving services can help organizations and businesses complete delivery orders in a safe, reliable and trustworthy manner,” wrote Kumar in a blog post. “This is the first time we have incorporated Argo’s self-drive capabilities into our customer-centric partnerships. This gives us powerful insights into practice that are required to run an efficient business. “
Ford says that due to the pilot’s success, it will continue to grow and refine its moveable goods business with similar pilots in 2021.
Ford pushed the unveiling of its driverless service from 2021 to 2022 earlier this year, but Argo, with over 1,000 employees and valued at $ 7.25 billion, is doing business as usual. In addition to Ford, Argo has close ties with Volkswagen and tests in cities across the United States, including Washington, DC. Pittsburgh; and Austin.
Ford is just the last to repurpose its self-driving fleet for charity during the pandemic. Some, like Waymo and Cruise, have received setbacks from drivers saying they are forced to work in dangerous conditions. According to Verge, Waymo drivers were recently told to bring in suffocating ashes from forest fires and after COVID-19 infection rates hit new highs.