Ford has revealed the test market for its self-driving service it teased but kept under wraps back at CES in January: Miami. Will Smith bids you “bienvenidos,” Ford, via his canonical 1997 opus. But actually, Ford is welcomed by Miami-Dade officials, who are working with the automaker to run this pilot across both downtown Miami and the Miami Beach areas of the city.
The test will include both running autonomous vehicles on the roads powered by Argo AI autonomous vehicle software, and also proving out and developing its business model with human-driven vehicles doing things like delivering Domino’s pizza and Postmates… well, everything that Postmates offers.
To start, the cars doing the business test and the cars doing the autonomous testing will be separate: Ford’s Sharif Marakby, VP of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, explained on a call that the automaker wants to test both in parallel rather than waiting for the self-driving tech to be ready enough to then deploy the business, so that both parts are fully developed and mature by 2021, when Ford intends to deploy “thousands” of vehicles in commercial operation at scale.
“The business and the tech are going to converge in the future,” Marakby said on a press call about the news. “I can’t tell you when, yet. The reason we’re running them both in parralel is so we can perfect the business side before rollout.”
Miami was chosen because it’s one of the most congested cities in the world, and because it found an ally in Miami-Date Mayor Carlos A Giménez and his administration. Ford is already up and running with its Domino’s simulated on-demand autonomous pizza delivery service, and will begin Postmates deliveries in March. Ride-hailing service testing, with partners like Lyft, will follow at a later date.
Ford has also established an autonomous vehicle operations depot in Miami, which will be used to manage and house the fleet, as well as to clean and maintain the vehicles. Ford’s Marakby also noted that this will be a base from which it can coordinate its dealer network participation – dealers, according to the Ford executive, will be crucial in helping it repair and maintain its self-driving fleets.
Marakby also said one reason to operate in Miami with this pilot is to “understand the magnitude of the opportunity,” which will help it in its process of developing custom, fit-for-purose AVs from the ground up. He added that Ford recognizes different functions, such as delivering large goods, could require different kinds of AV platforms in future, but the first focus is on building a vehicle “form the ground up to be autonomous, and to move people and to move goods” interchangeably.