By on February 27, 2018

Ford-Argo Miami

It has begun. Ford is finally ready to launch another batch of its faux-autonomous Domino’s pizza delivery vehicles to assess how people will interact with a self-driving vehicle. False autonomy has become a bit of a gimmick with Ford, but a necessary one. Last year, it disguised a man as a seat to assess how people would respond to a vehicle that only communicated using lights. Now it’s running with a similar strategy in a deal with the famous pizza chain, adding Postmates for good measure.

While the information gleaned from the endeavor is less important, the fact that Ford is already actively working with business partners on autonomous applications is what really matters. It’s laying the groundwork for future business opportunities.

However, if you’re worried that Ford’s pretend self-driving vehicles are a sign that it’s losing the race toward the self-driving car, don’t. In addition to the Domino’s car, the automaker is also launching blue-and-white research vehicles equipped with new self-driving hardware and software technology from Argo AI.

Ford said all the vehicles are bound for Miami, without specifying how many are in the fleet. At present, the pizza delivery vehicles seem to have the majority of their strength amassed in Ann Arbor. Florida is just another market for Ford and Domino’s to test in, with Postmates getting its shot sometime in March using different vehicles.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president for autonomous vehicles and electrification, wrote in a blog post that the Argo cars are already on the streets of Miami, mapping the area and learning how to cope with navigating an urban environment. Marakby also mentioned the importance of developing a support network for autonomous fleets, something other automakers frequently gloss over.

Until the technology is pitch perfect, no company will possess a fleet that doesn’t require meticulous maintenance and relentless sensor cleaning. It’s nice to see Ford acknowledging the issue. Marakby said a big part of the Miami fleet will be the fine-turning of vehicle management processes and finding out the best way to handle a smaller fleet before scaling up.

Miami will also serve as the initial staging area for Ford’s Transportation Mobility Cloud, an open-sourced platform for cities and other partners to use for “vehicle-to-everything” communications. Ford wants to develop an in-car operating system that allows vehicles to communicate with everything from traffic lights to smartphones. The hope here is to create a fool-proof system for automated driving and potentially corner a market that may be essential for self-driving vehicles. Marakby said companies that already have partnerships with Ford, like Lyft and Postmates, will also be able to use the platform to provide ride-hailing trips and deliveries using Ford’s self-driving cars.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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