By John Davis, Director of Autonomous Vehicle and Future Technology, Ford Motor Company
Improving the future of mobility is more than just getting people or deliveries from point A to point B. Mobility provides someone with the ability to access education, jobs, healthcare even fresh food. Our goal at Ford is to give every person the freedom to move, and help make lives better. As a result, our teams are exploring different mobility applications to understand how they can address real transportation pain points in communities. Most importantly, how can we build mobility services that feels personal for those using it.
That is why Ford decided to launch an autonomous shuttle to deliver fresh, healthy foods to senior citizens who lack access to food due to mobility challenges, as part of a pilot program with Ford’s philanthropic arm, the Ford Motor Company Fund. It is happening right in the heart of Michigan Central — a new mobility innovation district being developed by Ford at and around the iconic Michigan Central Station in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. As a result, the team will learn even more about moving goods autonomously, while directly addressing a need in the community.
The pilot at a glance — Expected 10,000 Pounds of Food: Ford will deliver fresh produce via an autonomous low-speed shuttle each month, running a fixed route from the Ford Resource and Engagement Center (FREC) to the Rio Vista Co-Op Apartments senior living center. Residents are currently receiving a fresh food delivery through the Ford Fund’s FREC on the Go program at no cost. As a result of the six-month pilot, more than 20 residents will receive an additional delivery complete with fresh milk and produce, which was highly requested based on feedback, resulting — in an expected 10,000 pounds of fresh healthy foods. We are kicking-off right ahead of the holidays and will operate until next summer. The shuttle also reflects the community through original artwork on the vehicle created by Detroit School of Arts high school student Brooke Snow.
What we hope to learn: Technology is only successful if it improves the lives of people. With that in mind, our AV & Mobility team is bringing together many pieces of a puzzle to research and see how they fit together: 1. A low-speed autonomous shuttle operating along a fixed route and remote operations; 2. The experience design (XD) and how to build a great product and experience conducive to goods delivery; 3. How we can support the community and address the needs of historically under-represented and under-served groups through future mobility services , while building trust in mobility innovation like autonomous vehicles. Here is a little more about each of these:
1.Autonomous Testing: The Ford Autonomous Vehicle Future Tech team is teaming up with Saline, Michigan-based Quantum Signal AI LLC, a wholly owned Ford subsidiary, to explore using a low-speed shuttle to operate autonomously on a fixed route with the help of remote operations and smart infrastructure.
· While the shuttle will operate autonomously with a safety driver, we are looking at how a remote operator from more than 40 miles away in Saline could assist the shuttle if an unexpected condition arises, such as a fallen tree branch from a storm in the middle of the road.
· We also are building off our work in Saline and Miami, and have installed multiple Ford-designed smart infrastructure sensor nodes along the shuttle test route.
· The Ford nodes can relay information to a self-driving vehicle, so it knows what’s happening on the ground before it even arrives at an intersection or other piece of roadway. The fusion of onboard sensors on the vehicle analyzing the road, combined with the extra perception of the infrastructure nodes can help to improve safety and efficiency of the shuttle.
2. Experience Design: The design of the shuttle from the interior to the exterior, was created by our Experience Design (XD) team whose mission is to understand the customer and create value. The XD team is focused on delivering and testing the customer service in a real-world application.
· Starting with the functionality, the shuttle was completely re-designed to make it easy to transport goods — the doors were re-positioned so that they open in a freestyle rather than swinging out and a flat loading floor was created to enable easy stacking of bins with food.
· From the exterior, digital screens will have the ability to display a variety of messages — such as safe loading and unloading instructions.
· Finally, we added our lightbar to the windshield, building on our past research. A driver usually will nod his or her head or wave a hand to indicate intent to a pedestrian or car. But, what about in a driverless future? We believe a standard way for autonomous vehicles to easily communicate their intention to people on the streets where they will operate could help communities trust and interact with the technology. We also added a lightbar to the windows to communicate when it is safe to approach the vehicle for loading and unloading. We will continue to learn about the use of the lightbar.
3. The Community: The most important part of this pilot is interacting with the residents of Southwest Detroit, in the Hubbard Richard neighborhood, and listening from a service design standpoint. Everything from the bags that are used in the pilot, to the food residents receive to the digital screens, we will be gathering feedback every step of the way. We will also conduct focus groups to deeply engage with the residents about the pilot and to better understand the challenges that they face when it comes to transportation and their freedom of movement. This will help us understand how we can evolve and serve this population best in the future.
What’s next: We will continue to learn over the six-month pilot. We believe this type of autonomous application could be used in the future and could help support more frequent trips and deliveries in our communities. This is a step in our journey as we use the open innovation platform at Michigan Central to build mobility solutions for the future.