The way that we receive parcels could be undergoing a change. Ford has announced a new Self-Driving Vehicle Research Programme designed to help businesses in Europe understand how autonomous vehicles can benefit their operations.
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 a “Human Car Seat” in control of the vehicle – this enables an experienced, hidden driver to drive while giving the impression to others around that there is no one at the wheel.
“As we plan to bring autonomous vehicles to the roads, it is important that we focus not only on enabling the technology, but on enabling our customers’ businesses,” said Richard Balch, director, Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility, Ford of Europe. “Clearly, there is no better way to identify how they may need to adapt than to experience those processes in real life.”
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.
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 their locker, containing the 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.
“We’re excited to collaborate with Ford on this proof of concept trial, which is all about understanding the potential for autonomous vehicles and if they have a role in delivery in the longer-term future,” said Lynsey Aston, head of product, innovation and onboarding at Hermes.