Ford testing its self-driving vehicle service in Miami

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Ford has announced that it will test its self-driving vehicle service in Florida, on the streets of Miami and Miami Beach.

Ford will do this with the help of Miami-Dade County, whose mayor, Carlos A. Giménez, is on the “forefront of thinking about the future of transportation,” according to Sherif Marakby, Ford Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, via a post on Medium.com.

For Marakby, the collaboration between Ford and Miami-Dade County is a no-brainer because Miami-Dade County offers a diverse set of transportation modes, including ride-hailing services, rail, buses and bike sharing. Marakby says that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez is a “champion of innovative technology” who “understands the potential of self-driving vehicles and how they can fit in, interact with, and enhance all of those modes and more.”

While Miami is home to a diverse set of transportation modes, innovation is still needed, Marakby says, especially in a place like Miami. Marakby points out that according to the Inrix Global Traffic Scorecard, Miami was recently listed as the fifth most congested city in the United States, and the 10th most congested city in the world.

“Miami commuters spend an average of 64 hours in congestion per year during peak time periods — or nearly 10 percent of their total drive time,” Marakby says. “That’s just not right, yet it serves as a reminder that people always need to be at the center of our plan, so we’re setting out to solve for their pain points.”

​Ford will start its time in Florida with pilot programs throughout the year with its partners, beginning with Domino’s and Postmates. The pilot with Domino’s is already operational, and Marakby says that Ford is finalizing plans to launch a pilot with Postmates in March.

Marakby says that the lessons learned from that customer experience research “will be applied to the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that we plan to launch in 2021 to support the expansion of our service.”

During these pilot programs, Ford will seek to answer a variety of questions regarding the people and technology involved with these services. The company is keenly aware that there will be both hurdles and benefits associated with self-driving delivery, and Marakby says that the company intends to learn “all of these ins and outs so that we can serve people in a way that’s most intuitive and convenient.”

Marakby says that Ford will also continue to develop the self-driving technology powering its vehicles by expanding testing in partnership with Argo AI, a company that has a comprehensive understanding of local laws and the unique driving habits of residents. A new fleet of Argo vehicles is already on the streets, mapping the roads and accumulating miles that will help the companies “improve the way they move through cities.” The effort is expected to grow throughout the year, as more vehicles are added, and areas of testing are expanded.

​With all of these vehicles on the road, Ford is not ignorant to some of the practical realities that it will have to deal with, specifically with maintaining these self-driving vehicles, so the company has announced that it also plans on establishing its first autonomous vehicle operations terminal in Miami. The terminal will be the base from which Ford develops its vehicle management processes and house its test fleet. Vehicles will be washed at the base, and their sensors will also be cleaned there. Routine maintenance on the vehicles will also be conducted at the base, as well.

Marakby says that Ford will also work closely with its extensive dealer network in the area, “looking for ways to integrate and incorporate their operations and capabilities into our terminal.” A healthy dealer network is important for support, as dealers can assist with repairs and conduct parts deliveries and other services.

Marakby says that “before thousands of self-driving vehicles can hit the streets, we have to be prepared to manage large, high-tech fleets efficiently,” so the steps being taken in Miami “represent a significant stride in that process.”

There are certainly a lot of moving pieces associated with Ford’s dealings in Miami, but the company is confident that the work being done there will go a long way in making this service the best it can possibly be.

“By bringing all of our different development tracks together to test in unison, we’re putting ourselves in the best position to analyze our execution, determine what works well and improve what doesn’t,” Marakby says. “This way, we can quickly expand our service and take it to other cities when the time comes.”

Marakby adds, “we’re looking forward to connecting with the people of Miami-Dade County and becoming part of their community as we increase awareness for our efforts and build a service they can confidently rely on day in and day out.”