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Ford partners with Postmates in path to driverless delivery

Ford Motor Co. is expanding its driverless delivery experiment beyond pizza by partnering with Postmates to test what it will take to eventually remove the driver from on-demand distribution.

The carmaker and Postmates — a company that connects consumers with drivers to deliver their groceries, take-out and other purchases — will team up this year on a pilot program that explores how self-driving tech could change the delivery experience.

The experiment, which will use human drivers for now, will help Ford better understand how an autonomous delivery system could work, especially since customers will have to walk out and fetch their orders themselves. Once fully autonomous vehicles are developed, deployed and regulated, this kind of on-demand delivery could eventually go driver-free.

“In the future, when a consumer uses Postmates to place a purchase — whether for groceries, takeout or other goods — a self-driving vehicle could be what delivers her order,” Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, said in a Medium post before a CES keynote by Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett. “We’ll study both what the merchant experience needs to be at the point of delivery and what the customer experience needs to be at that same point.”

Ford’s announcement today is the latest at CES to confirm a driverless future is in the works but still a ways away. Even as General Motors Co. plans to have self-driving cars ready for a ride-hailing service in 2019 and Toyota Motor Corp. aims to demonstrate its new e-Palette concept at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, automakers are quick to admit that plenty of hurdles remain before drivers are totally removed from the equation on a major scale.

The tie-up comes on the heels of the automaker’s earlier partnership with Domino’s Pizza Inc. to test appetite for driverless pizza delivery. The results from the Domino’s test have started to shape how the automaker thinks about customer interaction in a driverless future.

During the program that took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this past fall, Ford discovered customers specifically enjoyed the voice instructions explaining how to collect their order that played over speakers mounted on the Fusion that delivered their pies.

“Many even wanted to talk back to the car, saying, ‘Bye,’ upon its departure,” Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, said in a separate post. “That insight is helping us to design experiential elements not just for delivery modes, but for all self-driving vehicle interactions.”

In addition to the Postmates announcement, Ford also said Tuesday it’s working with Silicon Valley startup Autonomic to build an open cloud-based platform, called the Transportation Mobility Cloud, that can manage the flow of information between cars, bikes, pedestrians, mass transit and infrastructure.

Ford is also teaming with Qualcomm Technologies Inc. to develop C-V2X, or cellular vehicle-to-everything technology, which allows cars and smart cities to communicate — a key step in the path to driverless transportation.

“All of this work is being done for a simple reason: To improve people’s lives and create better experiences,” Rich Strader, Ford’s vice president of mobility product solutions, said in a post co-written with Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra. “Moving around something as dynamic as a bustling city shouldn’t be an act of frustration; it should be affordable, accessible and enjoyable.”

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