US automaker Ford Motor is launching driverless delivery trials in Miami that will initially focus on getting food from service partners delivered to their customers.
The delivery vehicles will be dropping off for Domino’s Pizza and for Postmates, a food-delivery service, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The company expects to add other partners later.
The Miami experiment, announced Tuesday, will involve two sets of vehicles: one of self-driving cars that will navigate actual traffic, and the other consisting of human-driven cars and trucks that deliver food and other things, according to the report.
The delivery vehicles will be made to look like self-driving cars with graphics and fake sensors, and the drivers will have rules about interacting with the customers with the aim of creating an experience of what it is like for a robot to make a delivery.
“We want to understand what customers do to interact with an AV vehicle,” the Journal cited Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles, as saying.
Ford is developing a revenue-sharing model with its partners.
The business model is different from the one being developed by rival GM, which last fall said it will launch its own commercial ride-sharing service with self-driving vehicles in 2019, Reuters noted.
Ford plans to provide a self-driving vehicle service to multiple partners, who in turn would offer it to their customers under their own brand names.
A Lyft customer, for instance, could schedule a ride from a Lyft mobile phone app in a Ford self-driving vehicle.
“We will make money through utilizing the vehicle and the revenue that the vehicle generates for every mile it’s operating,” Marakby told Reuters in an interview.
That model could include a revenue split with the partner, and additional revenue from streaming digital services such as infotainment, advertising and e-commerce into the vehicle.
Ford said the mixed-use model — transporting people and goods — offers a better chance of keeping its vehicles operating throughout the day, and thus maximizing potential revenue.
Jim Farley, president of Ford Global Markets, said the company is designing a unique self-driving vehicle from the ground up, which it intends to begin producing in 2021.
The vehicle will be flexible enough to carry people, goods or both, and will be powered by a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain to provide good range and minimize the downtime required by pure electric vehicles such as GM’s Cruise AV to charge their batteries.
Ford, working with its affiliate Argo AI, is deploying self-driving Fusion sedans in Miami and will add vans and SUVs as it rolls out its pilot program to other cities, Marakby told Reuters.
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