Ford is partnering with on-demand delivery company Postmates to explore the next step in self-driving technology — delivery services.
Currently in the pilot phase in Miami and Miami Beach, the project gives customers who place orders through Postmates the choice to have their items delivered by a self-driving Ford Transit Connect. Well, not quite. Because the aim of the project is to explore how merchants and customers interact with a driverless delivery van, the onus is on the steps required at both ends of the delivery process, so the delivery itself is made by a Transit Connect with a driver.
The steps leading up to a home delivery are the same … you order, somebody at the merchant, say a restaurant because that’s what most people have delivered, prepares your order and gets it ready to deliver. But instead of handing it over to a delivery driver, the restaurant employee types an access code into a touchscreen on the outside of the van, opening one of three lockers.
Ford envisions the ability for a driverless delivery van to handle deliveries for a variety of goods, from food to sporting goods to hardware … whatever, so it equipped the pilot vans with several sized and differently equipped storage lockers. The restaurant ones are equipped with cupholders, for example, to keep ordered drinks from bouncing about and spilling.
The driverless van would then do what autonomous vehicles are designed to do and navigate its way from the retailer to the customer. When it arrives at the destination, it sends a text to the customer’s mobile device saying the purchase has arrived and supplying an access code the customer enters onto the touchscreen. Doing so opens the locker with the item inside, directing the customer with lights and audio prompts.
The pilot vans are equipped with the items the autonomous delivery van will have when it arrives in 2021 — the external touchscreen, the locker storage system and the external audio system. The autonomous driving system is being tested separately.