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Ford Expands Self-Driving Vehicle Program to Miami

Ford is expanding its self-driving vehicle program to Miami, where the automaker will test its technology as well as its future business model through pilot programs with Dominos and Postmates.

The move down to Miami (and Miami Beach) illustrates Ford’s approach to deploying a commercial fleet of autonomous vehicles designed for a variety of services from delivering pizza and packages to people.

The plan is to develop and test the self-driving vehicle system, and in a separate parallel track, work on the business side of how a dedicated fleet of autonomous vehicles might operate in the real world—and be profitable. Argo AI, the startup that Ford invested $1 billion in last year, is focused on developing and testing the self-driving vehicles. Argo has already its autonomous vehicles on the road in Miami, where it’s currently collecting mapping data.

The pilots with Dominos and Postmates will be using a research vehicle driven by a safety engineer; it’s not an autonomous vehicle. It’s a special research vehicle loaded with sensors and adorned with the Spanish word “investigacion.” The aim is learn the logistical challenges of delivery by a driverless vehicle in a different environment from Ann Arbor, Mich., where the company launched its first pilot with Dominos last year, said Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification.

“Every city is different and Miami represents a diverse urban, dense environment,” Marakby told Fortune. “We’re testing things like curbside management and customers’ willingness to have the delivery come to their apartment building and having to come down and pick it up.”

With no human driver involved, customers have to interact with the car to retrieve that pizza or package. Customers who order Dominos pizza through the pizza chain’s app will receive a text message when their delivery has arrived. In Ann Arbor, the pilot encountered a more suburban environment with homes. In Miami, there will be a greater concentration of apartments.

These pilots might seem, at first glance, as a marketing ploy. But Jim Farley, the company’s president for global markets, told Fortune earlier this year that Ford has already learned a lot about how people interact with the self-driving Domino’s cars. For instance, in the summer people would often be barefoot and not keen to walk in the hot street to grab their pizza, Farley told Fortune during an interview in January.

Courtesy of Ford
Courtesy of Ford

 

“We’re going to test in a number of cities that’s required to launch and be at scale to be able to build a great business in 2021,” Farley said, noting that other companies developing

“We’re going to stand the business up in 2021 and we’ve built out a portfolio of cities in such a way to allow us to launch at scale,” Farley said. “A lot of the competitors their verifying the automated technology and the business model simultaneously and our approach is different. We want to test the business model in as large scale and complexity as possible earlier in the process.”

Ford plans to expand into at least one more city in 2018.

Hackett revealed that broader strategy—and several announcements to pursue it—in January at CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas. That’s where the company announced its partnership with Postmates. More importantly, it was where Ford revealed an open cloud-based platform for cities to use to orchestrate and manage all the disparate transportation modes happening at any given time as well as a partnership with Qualcomm for Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X, a wonky term that basically means everything in the city such as stoplights, signs and even bikes can speak to each other and share information.

Ford also announced a new partnership platform that would let companies like Domino’s Pizza, Lyft, and Postmates connect to the automaker’s future fleet of self-driving vehicles.