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Ford envisages vans and drones working together to solve ‘last mile’ deliveries

Ford envisages vans and drones working together to solve ‘last mile’ deliveries

Vans and drones could work hand in hand to improve mobility in urban areas in one example of Ford’s vision for the ‘City of Tomorrow.

Self-driving vans could quickly and efficiently transport everything from groceries, to urgently needed medical supplies on the ground, with drones potentially able to take to the air for the final leg of the journey to reach destinations inaccessible by car such as, high up in a tower block - or where parking would be difficult, impractical, or unsafe.  

The ‘Autolivery’ concept, developed by a team of Ford employees for the company’s Last Mile Mobility Challenge, imagines electric self-driving vans used together with drones to pick up and drop off goods and packages in urban areas.

The concept could be experienced through virtual reality headsets at this week’s Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, in Barcelona, as part of Ford’s vision of the ‘City of Tomorrow’.   The experience showed dinner party preparations, with a missing ingredient quickly ordered and delivered in time to add to the recipe.  

As new data revealed that motorists in Europe’s cities spent up to 91 hours sitting in congested traffic during 2016, the ‘Autolivery’ service is claimed to illustrate how new technologies could improve the lives of consumers with smart connected homes, and help to pave the way to a more sustainable future.  

“Ford has at its heart a culture of disruption and innovation designed to come up with solutions that put people first to save them time, money and aggravation, and also to make our cities easier to navigate and better to live in,” said Ken Washington, vice president, research and advanced engineering, Ford Motor Company.  

The ‘Autolivery’ idea, one of many submitted by Ford employees to tackle the last mile challenge, paid particular attention to the challenge of the last 15 metres in goods delivery. 

Widely considered the most challenging part of the goods delivery process to automate, many companies are working on how to solve the complexity of delivering packages the last 15 metres, or from kerb to door. The pressure to solve this challenge is expected to increase globally in coming years with GDP growth, and a rise in local deliveries due to online sales, according to Ford.  

‘The City of Tomorrow’ envisages overcoming mobility challenges in urban environments, including gridlock and air pollution, to help people move more easily today and in the future. Roads, said Ford, could be converted into green space and parks, allowing for higher quality of life and healthier communities.  

Ford intends to have a fully autonomous, Society of Automotive Engineers’ level four-capable vehicle for commercial application in mobility services, such as ride sharing, ride hailing or package delivery fleets, in 2021. It also expects continued growth in electrified vehicle offerings, to the point where they outnumber their petrol‑powered counterparts, in the next 15 years.