Ford Motor Company and DP World London Gateway have conducted a trial with a simulated autonomous vehicle on large worksites.
The initiative is part of Ford’s Self-Driving Research Program, designed to help businesses understand how autonomous vehicles could benefit their operations. First launched in June to explore the potential impact upon courier services and doorstep deliveries, the trial tested how recipients managed when accessing self-driving delivery vehicles themselves.
According to the announcement, the goal is to identify new opportunities and models for autonomous vehicle operations – in particular, understanding how existing processes and human interactions can work alongside automated vehicles.
“It was incredible to see how enthusiastically the team at DP World embraced working with the support of a self-driving vehicle," said Richard Balch, director, Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility, Ford of Europe. "We are continuing to work very closely with our customers to learn how these vehicles can benefit their businesses, and it is exciting to see first-hand the impact this can have across a diverse range of locations. What worked so well at DP World premises could equally be of benefit at universities, airports, and manufacturing facilities.”
DP World London Gateway is located east of London and already uses automated technology as part of its operations as a deep-sea container port. For the trial, Ford used a specially adapted Transit upfitted to mimic the look of an actual self-driving vehicle with a driver concealed within a “Human Car Seat.” Employees loaded packages into secure lockers in the rear of the Transit. Then, at set delivery times, the Transit traveled to the main reception 3.5 km away for colleagues to retrieve.
Every step of the process was monitored by researchers who conducted interviews before, during, and after the trial. They reported that employees quickly became comfortable using the van. The news release says that some proactively trained colleagues to access their packages, while others overcame difficulties intentionally introduced by the researchers, such as the wrong parcels being stowed in the wrong lockers.
“Having what appeared to be a self-driving vehicle on site created a real buzz. Everyone wanted to use it," said Ernst Schulze, UK chief executive of DP World. "Popping in the car to pick up a package from elsewhere on site might not seem like it takes that long, but across multiple journeys over weeks, months, and years, this can add up to a lot of time and money.”
Along with the Port of Tilbury and Ford Dagenham, DP World London Gateway will form Thames Freeport. The U.K. government awarded the partners freeport status earlier this year. The partners are currently progressing the business case, with Freeport Tax Site status being awarded on Nov. 19, on their journey to receiving formal accreditation.
Ford has been testing self-driving technology in major cities across the U.S. in partnership with Argo AI. The company plans to invest around $7 billion in autonomous vehicles through 2025 – $5 billion of that from 2021 forward – as part of its mobility initiatives.