Image: Ford

Ford Commercial Solutions – a business unit of Ford Smart Mobility – has launched an open platform called Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC) for fleets to manage data flow to and from their vehicles. Aimed primarily at large company fleets, telematics providers and fleet management companies, the TMC uses the vehicles’ built-in modems to transfer data directly to the cloud, and then on via an API to internal IT systems or telematics providers.

The data transferred includes information on GPS location, mileage, fuel usage, driver behaviour and component ‘health’, delivering insights to managers and enabling quicker updates, repairs or interventions. The platform is compatible with the Verizon Connect telematics, but new agreements with Geotab and Spireon give other service provider options. Lee Jelenic, CEO of Ford Commercial Solutions, said in a statement: “Business owners and operators want to serve their customers, not spend excessive time managing their fleets. Our goal is to unlock the data from their vehicles to provide them with more effective ways to manage their fleets and improve operations.”

Ford Commercial Solutions has also launched a second tool aimed at law enforcement fleets: this distils information – on fuel usage, carbon dioxide emissions, vehicle health and driver seatbelt usage - from its existing Data Services product. Later this year Ford will launch a plug-in device to connect older vehicles without a built-in modem; this will be suitable for vehicles from the 2012 model-year onward.

Trials of self-driving deliveries

Ford is also trialling self-driving food deliveries in a pilot programme in Miami and Miami Beach, USA, with Postmates, an on-demand platform. Transit Connect vans with a secure locker system are delivering takeaway meals from over 70 businesses, albeit with a human driver for now: the programme is initially focusing in the first and last miles of deliveries, and how the food is transported and accessed.

At the restaurant end, the lockers are accessed by a code, for employees to place the food inside; customers are then notified by text when their delivery arrives. “Upon meeting the vehicle at the curb, consumers enter an access code into the touch screen and the appropriate locker will open,” explained Alexandra Ford English, from the Ford Autonomous Vehicle Team, in a Medium blog post. “Audio prompts direct the interaction and lights will illuminate the designated locker. We’re making interactions with the vehicle as easy as possible through various sensory technologies built into the Transit Connect.

“This is our first self-driving research vehicle modified specifically to test a variety of interfaces – the touch screen, the locker system, the external audio system – to inform the design of our purpose-built self-driving vehicle that’s arriving in 2021. Ultimately, through our partnership with Postmates, we’re testing methods for efficient deliveries to help local businesses expand their reach and provide a seamless experience to customers.”

The Postmates programme is in addition to a trial already running with Domino’s in Miami – where Ford is establishing its first autonomous vehicle operations terminal. “Situated close to downtown, it will be the base from which we’ll develop our vehicle management processes and house our test fleet,” explained Ford VP for autonomous vehicles and electrification Sherif Marakby in a further Medium post. “Additionally, we will work closely with our extensive dealer network in the area, looking for ways to integrate and incorporate their operations and capabilities into our terminal.”

Marakby added that, in parallel, “we will continue to develop the self-driving technology powering our vehicles by expanding testing in partnership with Argo AI. Running a self-driving business in any city requires a comprehensive understanding of local laws and the unique driving habits of residents, which is where Argo specializes. A new fleet of Argo vehicles is already on the streets, mapping the roads and accumulating miles that will help us improve the way they move through cities. The effort will grow throughout the year as we add vehicles and expand areas of testing.”

-Farah Alkhalisi