Hermes, the consumer delivery specialist, has become the first customer to take part in an early stage trial with Ford, Europe’s market leader in commercial vehicles, to make city deliveries more efficient and sustainable in the future with self-driving vans.
Ford’s new ‘European Self-Driving Vehicle Research Programme’ has been designed to help businesses in Europe understand how autonomous vehicles can benefit their operations. The two-week trial will use a specially adapted Ford commercial vehicle featuring sensors that mimic the look of an actual self-driving vehicle, while enabling an experienced, hidden driver to ‘drive’. The research aims to better understand how other road users would interact with an apparently driverless delivery van.
“We’re excited to collaborate with Ford on this proof of concept trial, which is all about understanding the potential for autonomous vehicles and if they have a role in delivery in the longer-term future. We’re constantly innovating to incubate and then explore concepts like this, and we look forward to the initial findings, which will no doubt be useful on an industry-wide level,” said Lynsey Aston, Head of Product, Innovation and Onboarding, Hermes.
The driver will play an entirely passive role, simply driving the vehicle. Pedestrian couriers will support the delivery van equipped with a smartphone app that lets them hail the vehicle and remotely unlock the load door after it is safely parked at the roadside. Once inside, voice prompts and digital screens will direct the courier to the locker containing the parcels to be delivered.
The research vehicles will enable Hermes to understand how their teams could work alongside driverless vehicles ensuring that business processes are able to continue safely without a driver present.
“As we plan to bring autonomous vehicles to the roads, it is important that we focus not only on enabling the technology, but on enabling our customers’ businesses,” said Richard Balch, Director, Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility, Ford of Europe. “Clearly, there is no better way to identify how they may need to adapt than to experience those processes in real life.”
Ford has for six years been Europe’s market leader in commercial vehicles. By harnessing this experience with Hermes, the company intends to identify new opportunities and models for autonomous vehicle operations – in particular understanding how existing processes and human interactions can work alongside automated vehicles. Commercial vehicles’ planned operations and many human interactions are an ideal test case.