If you live in Miami, and doubt that autonomous vehicles (AVs) will really be roaming the streets soon, Ford and Domino’s would like to deliver pizza to your door via a self-driving car.
Ford announced earlier this week that it’s using the South Florida city as its “first proving ground” for its self-driving business plans, starting with autonomous Domino’s Pizza deliveries.
Later this month, Ford plans to launch a similar autonomous vehicle trial with the courier service Postmates to deliver more than just pizzas. The overall idea is for Ford to establish a base in Miami to study how to manage large fleets of self-driving cars in a pilot program that will run throughout the year and eventually move to other AV-friendly cities.
While this could be viewed as just another strategic move by a major player to expand its capabilities in the quickly evolving self-driving space, I believe it’s a turning point in the inevitable shift towards not only AV personal transportation but also robot door-to-door delivery.
“Before thousands of self-driving vehicles can hit the streets, we have to be prepared to manage large, high-tech fleets efficiently,” Ford VP of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification Sherif Marakby wrote in a blog post. “And the steps we’re taking in Miami represent a significant stride in that process.”
Ford, Nissan, and other automakers have vowed to have autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020, which many people take as meaning that they’ll be able to buy a self-driving car at a dealership. Perhaps, but for car companies it could be more about managing large fleets of AVs rather than moving metal in a traditional sense, the auto industry’s business model for the past century or more.
Competitors With Deep Pockets
Ford isn’t the only one interested in establishing fleet expertise. Competitors are already shelling out big bucks to establish fleet management relationships.
In June 2017, Waymo announced a partnership with car rental giant Avis to manage the Alphabet self-driving car division’s fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Phoenix, where it plans to launch a driverless taxi service after a year of testing. Around the same time, rumors swirled that Apple was in talks with Hertz to provide a similar arrangement, while part of the whole Uber-Google imbroglio was over the ride-sharing service’s purchase of Otto for its self-driving truck tech, which can make autonomous beer runs.
Waymo’s partnership with Avis and Apple’s Hertz hookup are savvy moves since the companies have plenty of money but no experience and expertise in having large numbers of cars quickly serviced, cleaned, registered, insured. “In this early stage of AV technology, as far as the business is concerned, running the vehicle at really high utilization rate for most of the day is going to be key,” Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, told Wired.
Automakers, tech companies, ride-sharing services, and others have been working for years now on perfecting self-driving technology, and if the history of innovation is any indication, it will only get better and cheaper moving forward. The non-technical parts, such as regulatory hurdles and figuring out how to turn autonomous technology into a business, as Ford is doing in Miami, could prove to be the more difficult part.
But Ford and others are starting to put the pieces in place. So you can bet there’s a pizza delivered by a robot in your future. If Ford succeeds, it could be much sooner than you think.