Car Industry

Ford's self-driving cars head to Miami

Sadly, there doesn't appear to be a partnership with Will Smith. Opportunity missed.

Ford

Automakers and tech companies have spent plenty of time getting their self-driving car development off the ground, and you usually hear about them setting up shop in California or Arizona. Ford's got a presence there, but it's also heading southeast -- way southeast.

Ford announced today that it has set up shop in Miami to help flesh out its autonomous vehicle development. It already has two separate fleets on the ground -- one from its partnership with Argo AI, and one from a separate partnership with Domino's. It's also establishing a maintenance facility to keep everything running nicely.

Argo's cars feature both English and Spanish explanations that the vehicle is autonomous.

Ford

Pizza's here!

The Domino's partnership is not so much a vehicle test as it is an exploration into how the general public will react to self-driving cars. Originally based in Ann Arbor, this pilot program uses a "self-driving" car to deliver pizza to a person's driveway, where they'll come outside and retrieve the pizza from the vehicle. Sadly, it's not a real self-driving car -- it's just mocked up like one, as the whole goal behind this side of Ford's AV testing is gauging consumer reaction to such a vehicle.

Postmates, an app where you can spend way too much money paying people to bring you things from the store, is also getting in on the action in March. Both companies will help Ford gather experience on customer interaction with self-driving vehicles, which will be quite important, as Ford hopes to roll out a real autonomous delivery service in the future.

More than just smoke and mirrors

While Domino's might be using "self-driving" cars, Argo AI's autonomous car is as real as it gets. The company, which received a $1 billion investment from Ford last year, is dedicated to building a software system that will provide the underpinnings for proper autonomy. Argo's cars are already crawling around Miami, gathering map data and experience that will bolster its future efforts as the fleet expands.

Argo made headlines late last year when its CEO took to Medium to tell people to slow the AV hype train down. Taking others to task on aggressive timeframes, Argo's chief claims there are still so many hoops that need jumping through before any kind of widespread AV rollout, most of which are hardware-related. It's nice to see some tempered expectations for once.

Setting up a base of operations

Ford isn't just letting its cars loose all over Miami without a single place they can call home. Ford is also establishing a centralized base of operations near downtown Miami that will serve as a hub for both service and routine things like cleaning.

AVs rely on a wide variety of sensors and cameras to "see," so a primary task of this operations terminal will be keeping that hardware nice and clean. It will also maintain the vehicles, which for now still rely on Ford's production powertrains. If something goes awry, the home base will be equipped to handle it.

But that doesn't mean Ford is leaving its dealers out of the equation. The automaker is working with local dealers to find ways to integrate AV-related operations into already established franchises. After all, if you want thousands of self-driving vehicles crawling all over the place, you can't expect to maintain them all in a single location.

Why Miami?

Miami might seem like an odd place to set up shop, at least based on what most other companies are doing, but a quick look at some statistics (or a quick drive through downtown Miami) should clear that right up.

According to the Inrix Global Traffic Scorecard, Miami is the 10th most congested city in the world, and the fifth most congested in the US. Approximately 10 percent of a Miami commuter's annual drive time -- 64 hours -- is spent sitting in congestion. 

Update, Feb. 28: Amended the text to better reflect the purpose of Ford's partnership with Domino's.