For months, Ford has been using Miami-Dade County as a testing ground for self-driving cars in a partnership touted as a way to reduce the area’s maddening traffic problems. Now, shiny new Transit Connect vans emblazoned with the words “self-driving delivery service” have hit the road to deliver for 70 local businesses.
Operating in partnership with Postmates, the vans are outfitted with lockers accessible via touchpad. But inside the so-called self-driving car is a real-life driver, who is hidden from view.
“Research vehicles for our business pilots are designed to appear as self-driving; however, they are manually driven by an experienced driver,” Ford wrote this week in a post on Medium. “The focus of our research is on the first and last mile of the delivery experience.”
Earlier this year, Ford deployed a separate fleet of robo-cars in Miami to map out streets and learn intersections. The company, which also opened a servicing plant here, has not disclosed how many there are. They, too, have drivers behind the wheel, though they sometimes operate in autonomous mode.
The idea behind the new Postmates vans, Ford says, is to determine how consumers will interact with a driverless delivery car. What happens when there’s no human driver to bring food to a doorstep?
Ford’s solution is touchscreens, lockers, and an external audio system, all of which are built into the vans operating in Miami. When a delivery arrives, a customer gets a text message and then finds the robo-vehicle at the curb. Using audio directions, the customer types the access code into the touchscreen, and the designated locker slides open.
“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,” Ford said on Medium.
The company’s publicity materials have boasted that driverless cars mean tip-less deliveries. The Medium post encourages Miamians to “jump at the chance to contribute to the future of delivery.”
Left unsaid: the loss of work for Miami’s already underpaid delivery drivers when the cars go truly driverless.
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