Doorstep deliveries are more a part of our lives than ever before, but the way that we receive those parcels could be undergoing a change following Ford’s
announcement of a new ‘self-driving vehicle research programme’ designed to help businesses in Europe understand how autonomous vehicles can benefit their operations.
Leading UK consumer delivery specialist Hermes
is the first business to partner with Ford on the programme. Using a customised Ford commercial vehicle, the research aims to better understand how other road users would interact with an ‘apparently driverless delivery van’.
The specially adapted Ford Transit features sensors that mimic the look of an actual self-driving vehicle, plus there is a ‘Human Car Seat’ in control of the vehicle. This allows an experienced hidden driver to drive while giving the impression to others around that there is no one at the wheel.
Richard Balch, Ford of Europe’s director of autonomous vehicles and mobility, said: “As we plan to bring autonomous vehicles to the roads, it is important that we focus not only on enabling the technology but also on enabling our customers’ businesses. Clearly, there is no better way to identify how they may need to adapt than to experience those processes in real life.” Autonomous vehicle operations
By harnessing this experience with expertise from delivery firms, Ford intends to identify new opportunities and models for autonomous vehicle operations, in particular understanding how existing processes and human interactions can work alongside automated vehicles.
“A commercial vehicle driver’s responsibilities sometimes extend beyond simply driving from one destination to another. In a delivery or logistics operation, for example, the driver may also be tasked with sorting and loading goods, manually handing packages over to recipients — or reloading them onto the van if delivery is not possible.
“However, in this research, the driver will play an entirely passive role, simply driving the vehicle. Pedestrian couriers who support the delivery van are equipped with a smartphone app that lets them hail the vehicle and remotely unlock the load door after it is safely parked at the roadside. Once inside, voice prompts and digital screens direct the courier to the locker that contain their parcels to be delivered.”
The two-week research project with Hermes builds on the success of Ford’s ‘last mile delivery’ trials in London, in which a team of pedestrian couriers collects parcels from a delivery van and fulfils the last leg of the delivery by foot resulting in ‘fast, sustainable and efficient deliveries in cities’.
Ford researchers are already investigating how self-driving vehicles will ‘integrate seamlessly’ into our daily lives; their work includes developing a light-based visual language to convey to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists what autonomous vehicles intend to do next.