Ford Expands Autonomous Delivery Plans With Postmates Deal

Today, mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) companies face a significant limiting factor: They need humans to drive the cars.

This is not a new development, of course, but the rapid growth of the MaaS space has made this obvious reality a frequent topic of discussion. A ride-hailing service, for example, can only service as many customers as it has active drivers. The same goes for delivery companies, which can’t maximize efficiency if there’s a driver shortage at any given moment.

Many believe that the emergence of self-driving cars will change all that.

The logic is fairly simple: With tireless computer operating systems at the helm, self-driving cars will be able to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That constant operation of individual fleet vehicles figures to significantly raise the profit margin on each one, as will their ability to self-diagnose the need for maintenance exactly when necessary.

Early in January, Ford continued its future-facing push into the autonomous MaaS space with the announcement of a new partnership with online delivery service Postmates. Self-driving Fords will join Postmate’s fleet of human drivers, making deliveries and collecting key data on customer experiences while doing so.

The news was first unveiled by Ford CEO Jim Hackett in a speech at CES 2018 in Las Vegas.

Founded in 2011, Postmates is a mobile app-based delivery platform on which customers can order any number of things, including “a burrito, new headphones, or a fresh shirt for tonight’s date,” according to the company’s website.

Much like Uber or Seamless, the app matches users with delivery personnel who procure and deliver the selected products. Customers receive an estimated delivery time and can track the status of their orders.

“Throughout the year, Ford and Postmates will conduct pilot programs to explore how self-driving technology could change the delivery experience for consumers, enable brick-and-mortar retailers to reach new customer bases, and transform the way commerce moves in the communities in which we operate,” Ford’s vice president of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification Sherif Marakby wrote in a Medium post. “In the future, when a consumer uses Postmates to place a purchase — whether for groceries, takeout or other goods — a self-driving vehicle could be what delivers her order. As part of our testing trials, we’ll 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.”

Postmates joins Domino’s and Lyft as users of Ford’s self-driving partnership platform, which, according to Ford vice president and president of Global Markets Jim Farley, plans to expand to service more businesses and organizations.

“We want all types of businesses and organizations, including non-profit service providers and even individuals, to have equal opportunity to expand and enhance their role in the community,” wrote Farley.

Having high-profile companies like Domino’s, Lyft and Postmates is a natural first step. But if Ford delivers on its goals of helping smaller, mom-and-pop companies, it could scale up its operations in places beyond urban centers and establish itself in an even more dominant position.

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