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Ford ties up with Postmates to figure out how self-driving cars will make money

Ford and delivery service Postmates are announcing a pilot partnership to investigate how self-driving vehicles can start bringing in cash. Ford says its autonomous vehicles will start ferrying meals and groceries sometime this quarter, though there’s no word yet on what city the service will debut in.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, says the pilot will enable Ford to experiment with managing an autonomous fleet and assess the costs of running a network of cars all the time. “One of the key aspects of monetizing the [autonomous vehicles] is to manage the utilization and to make sure that these vehicles are always running, always providing service, and always delivering stuff,” says Marakby.

Through this study, Ford plans to get a better understanding of how customers will want to interact with delivery vehicles and what neighborhoods they’ll feel safe walking out to the curb to retrieve a meal. The company is also interested in discovering how to design delivery-only vehicles. Markby says his team will have to figure out how to authenticate delivery recipients and architect an interior that can accommodate multiple deliveries, possibly using lockers to separate orders.

For Postmates, the deal represents an opportunity to test longer range autonomous deliveries. The company is already exploring automated short distance deliveries using smaller side walk crawling robots through its collaboration with Starship Technologies. Postmates will focus on reshaping its interface to help educate customers on how to interact with autonomous deliveries and likely as a component of makings sure the right deliveries are matched with the right customers.

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