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Ford and Hermes partner on autonomous delivery vehicles

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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.”

Ford has for six years been Europe’s market leader in commercial vehicles. 1 By harnessing this experience with expertise from delivery firms, the company 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. Commercial vehicles’ planned operations and many human interactions are an ideal test case.

A commercial vehicle driver’s responsibilities sometimes extend beyond simply driving from one destination to another. In a delivery or logistics operation, for example, the driver may also be tasked with sorting and loading goods, manually handing packages over to recipients – or reloading them onto the van if delivery is not possible.

However, 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.

Understanding and designing how humans will interact with the vehicle will ensure that business processes are able to continue safely without a driver present.

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.

The research vehicles will enable Hermes and other businesses to begin designing how their teams could work alongside driverless vehicles. For Hermes, this user design research has included developing an app that enables the pedestrian couriers to access the van to collect parcels, once again, this is a role that the human driver would normally fulfil.

“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. “We’re constantly innovating to incubate and then explore concepts like this, and we look forward to the initial findings, which will no doubt be useful on an industry-wide level.”

Ford researchers are already investigating how self-driving vehicles will integrate seamlessly into our daily lives, including developing a light-based visual language to convey to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists what autonomous vehicles intend to do next.

Ford has been testing self-driving technology in major cities across the U.S. and plans to invest around $7 billion in autonomous vehicles during 10 years through to 2025 – $5 billion of that from 2021 forward – as part of its Ford Mobility initiatives.

In collaboration with Ford’s self-driving technology partner, Argo AI, autonomous test vehicles operate daily in six U.S. cities. Last year, Argo AI’s comprehensive self-driving system enabled address-to-address autonomous deliveries of fresh produce and school supplies through a charitable goods pilot in Miami, Florida, in the United States.

UK front runner in £62 billion self-driving car race

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The UK is in pole position in the global race to market for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), with a £62 billion boost to the UK economy by 2030 up for grabs.

That’s according to a report published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and Frost & Sullivan, which analyses the wide-ranging societal and economic benefits to be achieved by gradually increasing CAVs on our roads.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as Autonomous Emergency Braking and Collision Warning are already available on the majority of new cars registered in the UK.

Combined with the gradual introduction of automated vehicles from 2021, this will deliver massive safety benefits, the report claims.

Over the next decade, the technology is set to prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives. At the same time, some 420,000 new jobs will be created, including in the automotive industry and other sectors such as telecoms and digital services.

Driving commuters, we’re told, will gain back the equivalent of a full working week thanks to more ‘downtime’ and smoother traffic flows during their commute.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Winning the Global Race to Market identifies three critical areas that will help CAV rollout and in which the UK has a significant advantage: supportive regulation, enabling infrastructure and an attractive market.

With the world’s first insurance legislation for autonomous vehicles already in place, the most comprehensive review of road transport underway and more miles across motorways, urban and rural roads able to be driven autonomously, the reports says the UK is already ahead of global rivals in its readiness to commercialise self-driving technology.

It ranks the UK above other major automotive countries, including Germany, US, Japan and South Korea as a global destination for the mass rollout of CAVs.

To realise this potential, however, the reports says conditions must be right, and sustained support from government will be vital – particularly if we are to meet its ambition to get autonomous vehicles on to UK roads in 2021.

The report’s key recommendations for government include updating road traffic laws, improving 4G coverage across all road networks, encouraging local authorities to work with industry to implement urban mobility services and influencing future harmonisation of international regulations to ensure these new vehicles can operate seamlessly between the UK and abroad.

Crucially, however, the UK’s departure from the EU must be orderly with a deal that supports both the industry and technological collaboration, especially in data. A ‘no deal’ Brexit will result in lasting damage to the UK’s reputation as a politically stable destination for inward investment, putting the benefits identified in the report at risk.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “A transport revolution stands before us as we move to self-driving cars and the UK is in pole position in this £62 billion race. Government and industry have already invested millions to lay the foundations, and the opportunities are dramatic – new jobs, economic growth and improvements across society. The UK’s potential is clear. We are ahead of many rival nations but to realise these benefits we must move fast.

“Brexit has undermined our global reputation for political stability and it continues to devour valuable time and investment. We need the deadlock broken with ‘no deal’ categorically ruled out and a future relationship agreed that reflects the integrated nature of our industry and delivers frictionless trade.”

Sarwant Singh, Senior Partner and Head of Mobility, Frost & Sullivan, said: “The UK already has the essential building blocks – forward thinking legislation, advanced technology infrastructure, a highly skilled labour force, and a tech savvy customer base – to spearhead CAV deployment over the next decade. However, it will require sustained and coordinated efforts by all key stakeholders, especially the government, to realise the significant annual economic benefits forecast for the UK from CAV deployment by 2030 and drive the vision of safe, convenient and accessible mobility for all.”