Ford just revealed the city where it plans to build its self-driving car program

Screenshot via YouTubeA self-driving Ford vehicle.
  • Ford has chosen Miami as its development hub for future self-driving vehicle fleets.
  • The carmaker is developing an all-new, fully autonomous vehicles that could be used for robotaxi fleets or deliveries.
  • That vehicle will arrive in 2021.
  • The company will establish a logistics terminal in Miami and begin working with partners such as Domino’s and Postmates.
  • Miami was chosen due to its combination of driving challenges and good weather.

Ford has big plans for full autonomous vehicles. By 2021, the carmaker intends to launch a car that can drive itself and deliver goods – and have no steering wheels or other controls.

That ambitious objective took a leap forward on Tuesday when the company announced that after considering several US cities in which to test new services and businesses and develop autonomous technology, it had settled in Miami as the location for its pilot program.

“We’ve spent years researching and developing self-driving technology, studying changing customer behaviours, serving some of the largest fleets in the country with help from our dealers, and working with governments big and small,” Sherif Marakby, the Ford vice-president overseeing autonomy and electrification, said in a Medium post.

“Now it’s time to pull it all together head for the finish line!” he added. “So now, we’re headed to Florida to test and prove out our business model. With the help of Miami-Dade County, we’re taking our service directly to the streets of Miami and Miami Beach.”

Why Miami?

Miami BeachWikimedia CommonsThe Miami area presents unique development opportunities.

The Miami area was chosen, Marakby said, because it combines a dense urban environment with suburban spaces. Miami itself is the “the tenth most congested city in the world and the fifth most congested city in the United States,” Markaby noted.

But the weather is also relatively predictable and, for the purposes of AV and EV testing, more benign than what one might find in Michigan or the Northeast. Companies diving into autonomy have favoured environments in regulation- and rain-light Arizona, but as General Motors has learned with its Cruise self-driving unit and operations in San Francisco, a viable autonomous business will have to contend with urban density at some point.

“Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez is a champion of innovative technology and applying it to help improve life for residents of the county,” Marakby wrote on Medium. “He’s on the forefront of thinking about the future of transportation.”

Ford is designing an all-new, fully autonomous vehicle that it will roll out in three years and that can be used, Marakby said on a conference call with reporters, to transport people in a robotaxi framework or deliver stuff. The company will rely on ArgoAI to shepherd the technology. Ford made a $US1-billion investment in the startup last year.

The carmaker isn’t waiting for that car to begin working on logistics and business models, however. In Miami, Ford will create a centralised self-driving hub.

“Situated close to downtown, it will be the base from which we’ll develop our vehicle management processes and house our test fleet,” Marakby wrote on Medium. “The vehicles will be washed and have their sensors cleaned here; routine maintenance will be conducted, including troubleshooting problems that arise and more.”

Ford Domino'sFordFord has partnered with Domino’s.

The pizzas are coming

Ford will also expand its partnerships with Domino’s and delivery service Postmates in Miami.

“What we learn from this customer experience research will be applied to the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that we plan to launch in 2021 to support the expansion of our service,” Marakby wrote on Medium.

He also told reporters during a press call that Ford will look to add additional partners, including local Miami businesses.

Ford could be accused of putting the cart before the horse in Florida, as it will essentially be conducting a trial-and-error process for several years before it has a truly autonomous platform. GM has taken a different tack with Cruise, rapidly developing an all-electric self-driving vehicle and putting it on the street to amass real-world experience. At some juncture, GM will link Cruise with its ride-hailing and sharing service, Maven, and possibly make its autonomous fleet available to ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

But under CEO Jim Hackett, who took over last year when Mark Fields was ousted amid a lagging stock price, Ford has been taking a broader view of new businesses. In Miami, the goal is clearly to have coherent businesses and reliable partners signed up before injecting autonomous vehicles into the system.

“We have to map the city and map the area before we can run in autonomous mode,” Marakby said. “But the business and technology will converge in future.”

He also told reporters that by 2021, Ford will be adding thousands of vehicles per year to its self-driving fleet.

“Starting the business two or three years ahead of launch is perfect,” he said.

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