Wearable Tech

Ford dreams of driverless vans that can launch delivery drones

Ford shows CNET's Katie Collins a future in which a drone delivers oranges to her 30th floor apartment. Also a future in which she lives in a 30th floor apartment.

I watched the drone ascend the 30 storeys from street level to my apartment balcony. It deposited the box on my table and buzzed right off again.

Inside were oranges I needed for a salad I was going to make for my friend Barbara. At least they were supposed to be inside.

I couldn't tell for sure because -- just like Barbara, my apartment and the drone -- the oranges were a fiction devised by Ford to show what life might be like in the city of the future.

It was all part of a VR demo that not only depicted my life to be more glamorous and sophisticated than it is in reality, but also hinted at how drones might be combined with autonomous vehicles to make deliveries right to someone's door.

Figuring out how to simplify going that last mile is something lots of tech-savvy transportation entrepreneurs, from drone companies to hyperloop dreamers, puzzle over. Ford's "Last Mile Mobility Challenge" was designed to encourage company employees to focus on how they might help people or things make that last little leap to their final destination.

The VR demo I enjoyed at the company's stand at Mobile World Congress was based on one of the winning concepts, which Ford calls "autolivery."

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What do you mean, I don't really live here? Where's Barb?

Sally Neiman/CNET

It relies on an autonomous van that can ferry packages to the right address, sort them, spit out the right one and deploy a drone that can pick up the package and fly off with it. It sounds like a health and safety nightmare, but my VR demo also let me get up close to the van and see how the various mechanisms would work in practice. The whole process looks, in theory, pretty slick.

But just as I'm some ways from owning a dreamy 30th floor apartment, the tech needed to deliver oranges to my would-be balcony is still just a concept. Ford does believe it's making progress, though. The company intends to have a fully autonomous vehicle for use in mobility services such as ride package delivery fleets in 2021.

In the meantime, we city dwellers will have to go fetch our own oranges for our fancy salads.

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