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UK delivery company Hermes will be testing out a customised Ford (F) van that appears to be driverless, to see how these can benefit its operations.
The partnership is part of Ford’s new Self-Driving Vehicle Research Programme designed for businesses in Europe.
“Doorstep deliveries are more a part of our lives than ever before – but the way we receive those parcels could be undergoing a change,” said Ford.
The specially adapted Ford Transit features sensors that mimic the look of an actual self-driving vehicle and will have a "human car seat" in control of the vehicle. This enables a hidden driver to drive while giving the impression that there is no one at the wheel.
As part of the trial, the driver will play an “entirely passive role”, simply driving the vehicle but never leaving the car or handling goods.
"Pedestrian couriers" who support the delivery van equipped with a smartphone app can hail the vehicle and remotely unlock the load door after it is safely parked.
Understanding and designing how humans will interact with the vehicle will ensure that business processes are able to continue safely without a driver present, Ford said.
“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.”
The company wants to see how existing processes and human interactions can work alongside automated vehicles.
The two-week research project with Hermes comes after 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. This resulted in fast, sustainable and efficient deliveries in cities, the company said.
The trial will enable Hermes to begin designing how their teams could work alongside driverless vehicles.
“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 at Hermes.
Ford has been testing self-driving technology in major cities across the US and plans to invest around $7bn (£5bn) in autonomous vehicles during 10 years through to 2025 as part of its Ford Mobility initiatives.
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