Ford says Transit Connect vehicles in a pilot program in Miami are equipped to look like they are operating autonomously in order to research how customers interact with self-driving delivery vehicles. 
 - Photo: Ford

Ford says Transit Connect vehicles in a pilot program in Miami are equipped to look like they are operating autonomously in order to research how customers interact with self-driving delivery vehicles. 

Photo: Ford

At the CES electronics show in Las Vegas, Ford showcased a new autonomous delivery version of its Transit Connect van it is developing with Postmates, an on-demand delivery platform, to operate a self-driving delivery service.

Ford said a Postmates pilot program is currently underway in Miami and Miami Beach with more than 70 businesses participating, including local favorites such as Coyo Taco. Residents in the area, when they order tacos — or almost anything, really — through Postmates, may be given the option to have the items delivered by a self-driving research vehicle.

For the pilot program, Ford designed a Transit Connect with a locker system to secure the food and allow it to serve multiple customers on one delivery route, which was on display at the company’s booth at CES. When the Postmates Transit Connect arrives at a restaurant to pick up a delivery, a restaurant employee types an access code into the screen. One of the lockers will automatically open so the food can be placed inside. Each locker has two cup holders so customers don’t have to worry about losing half their beverage in transit.

The Ford-Postmate research vehicle on display at CES.
 - Photo by Jim Park

The Ford-Postmate research vehicle on display at CES.

Photo by Jim Park

Additionally, Ford said, since services like Postmates must deliver an assortment of products, from sushi restaurants to hardware stores, the rear and passenger-side lockers on the specially developed Transit Connect are different sizes to allow testing of the best vehicle configuration. Ultimately, Ford says, it is using the pilot program to test how businesses and consumers interact with a self-driving vehicle.

In keeping with that mission, Ford said the research vehicles for its business pilots are designed to appear as self-driving – however, they are manually driven by an experienced driver.

When the vehicle arrives at its destination, the customer receives a text notification indicating the delivery is ready for pickup.

Upon meeting the vehicle at the curb, consumers enter an access code into the touch screen and the appropriate locker will open. Audio prompts direct the interaction and lights will illuminate the designated locker.

Ford says the research vehicle is modified specifically to test a variety of interfaces — the touch screen, the locker system, the external audio system— to inform the design of purpose-built self-driving vehicles that are scheduled to arrive in 2021.

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