Thursday, 19 July 2018 21:35

VIDEO: Ford tests self-driving research vehicle to deliver food, goods and the future

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Ford's new "Transit Connect self-driving research vehicle" features three lockers: one on the passenger side and two in the back  that help deliver both food and goods.

Alexandra Ford English, part of Ford's Autonomous Vehicle Business Team, issued a media release, reproduced on Medium, talking about a very cool partnership with Postmates, a company that offers "on-demand delivery from restaurants, coffee shops and other types of stores as well".

I guess that makes Postmates a kind of Uber Eats operation that can deliver anything, with English noting this kind of pilot service can help to "establish a self-driving delivery business that works great for customers and businesses", as both companies learn "how businesses and restaurants will need to interact with and load a self-driving vehicle, and whether there are any obstacles to overcome".

The example English uses in her post is of a dinner desire for a classic fave: tacos, with mouthwateringly tangy salsa, fresh coriander, hand pressed corn tortilla, and unless you're vegetarian, your choice of tasty protein to tantalise your tastebuds leaving you hankering with hunger!

It's here that a cognitive leap from the no-longer mythical brain cells in your gutthat give you the gut feeling you should never ignore which can cognitively shape the future, to deliver what English says is "not just an on-demand delivery platform, but one that is operated by a self-driving delivery service".

English also tells us that "research vehicles" for Ford's business pilots are designed to appear as self-driving. However, they are manually driven by an experienced driver.

She says "the focus of our research is on the first and last mile of the delivery experience. We are developing our self-driving technology in separate test vehicles

"Our Postmates pilot is currently underway in Miami and Miami Beach with more than 70 businesses participating, including local favorites like Coyo Taco. For residents in the area, when you order tacos – or almost anything, really – through Postmates, you may be given the option to have your items delivered by a self-driving research vehicle".

"What does that mean?", asks English, who explains: "It’s easier to show than to tell, so let’s examine the future of food delivery enabled by self-driving technology".

"Some things don’t change – when your meal is ready to be delivered, a restaurant employee will place it in the vehicle. (Surprise! You ordered tacos.)"

Enlish said: "We designed a Transit Connect for this pilot program with a locker system to secure your food and allow us to serve multiple customers on one delivery route. Additionally, services like Postmates must deliver an assortment of products from sushi restaurants to hardware stores.

"Therefore, the rear and passenger-side lockers are different sizes to allow us to test optimal vehicle configuration. Ultimately, we are testing how businesses and consumers interact with a self-driving vehicle.

"After the restaurant employee types his access code into the screen, one of the lockers will automatically open so that he can place the food inside. Each locker has two cup holders so that you don’t have to worry about losing half your beverage in transit.

"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. We’re making interactions with the vehicle as easy as possible through various sensory technologies built into the Transit Connect," English continued.

English continued, stating: "This is our first self-driving research vehicle modified specifically to test a variety of interfaces — the touch screen, the locker system, the external audio system — to inform the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that’s arriving in 2021.

"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.

"If you have the opportunity to check out the self-driving experience, jump at the chance to contribute to the future of delivery. And equally important – don’t forget to enjoy your meal!"

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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