Ford, Postmates to Test How Self-Driving Cars Could Change Delivery

LAS VEGAS—Ford has been ramping up its self-driving vehicle program in the past year from its $1 billion investment in Argo AI to its pilot with Domino’s Pizza. Now it’s locked in Postmates to conduct pilot programs to learn how self-driving vehicle technology can change the delivery experience and help retailers reach new customers.

In the pilot program, a self-driving vehicle could deliver the goods when consumers use Postmates to place an order. Ford plans to study both what the merchant experience needs to be at the point of delivery and what the customer experience needs to be at that same point.

The pilot program with Postmates was just one of several announcements Ford CEO Jim Hackett made Tuesday during his speech at CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas. But it’s notable because it ties into a much larger Ford vision and strategy to create an ecosystem of communication and services that future cities loaded with autonomous vehicles might need. Ford also announced an open cloud-based platform for cities to use to orchestrate and manage all the disparate transportation modes happening at any given time as well as a partnership with Qualcomm for Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X, a wonky term that basically means everything in the city such as stoplights, signs and even bikes can speak to each other and share information.

Ford also announced a new partnership platform that would let companies like Domino’s Pizza, Lyft, and now Postmates connect to the automaker’s future fleet of self-driving vehicles.

This “will help us validate our self-driving business model by working with partners  and reaching out to different communities and stakeholders to understand their needs, as well as how they can benefit from autonomous vehicles,” wrote Ford executive Jim Farley in a blog post that coincided with the onstage announcement.

These pilots might seem, at first glance, as a marketing ploy. But Farley says Ford has already learned a lot about how people interact with the self-driving Domino’s cars. For instance, in the summer people would often be barefoot and not keen to walk in the hot street to grab their pizza, he told Fortune during CES.

“Like us, Postmates is on a mission to help people unlock the best of their cities,” wrote Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, in a blog post on Tuesday, “with a focus on creating a reliable on-demand delivery network—one that gives consumers better access to the goods they need.”

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Stella Densmore