|Miami nice: Ford and Argo use self-driving tech to keep fresh food on kids' plates|
Before the pandemic struck, Miami-area nonprofit The Education Fund distributed fresh food to students at 26 schools, ensuring they and their families had enough to eat.
With some kids no longer attending school in person, organizers sought a safe way to keep them and their families stocked with healthy groceries.
Enter Ford Autonomous Vehicles and its self-driving technology partner, Argo AI. Miami happens to be where the two companies have been kicking the tires on their autonomous driving technology and, in parallel, developing the foundation of a commercial ride-hailing and delivery business.
The companies and The Education Fund embarked on a pilot project in late October that will conclude by the end of this month. The team is using self-driving test vehicles — with human safety drivers behind the wheel — to deliver food directly to 50 students who attend Miami Beach Feinberg-Fisher K-8 and Riverside Elementary Community School in Miami's Little Havana area.
It's a notable development because it's the first time Ford has integrated Argo's self-driving tech into customer-facing efforts. The service is helping to flesh out a fledgling business model.
"With real obligations to those expecting deliveries at a specific location and within a certain time frame, we're refining our ability to coordinate our operations efficiently to meet our customer commitments," Navin Kumar, director of AV business for Ford's autonomous vehicles subsidiary, wrote in a blog post.
Ford isn't the first company to use its self-driving test fleet to connect groceries and residents who need fresh food. This year, Nuro began using its fleet to connect the Houston Food Bank to a neighborhood where residents traditionally have trouble accessing fresh food. As the pandemic hit in April, Cruise started delivering from two food banks in San Francisco to residents who depended on them for meals.
Practically, these efforts have helped companies continue their self-driving testing throughout the pandemic when it otherwise may have been curtailed by local restrictions. But that's not to discount the efforts.
Self-driving technology is often touted as a means for achieving societal progress, be it safer roads or improved accessibility to transportation. That's not just about ensuring people can move around; it's about ensuring goods can reach those who need them.
Even in test-only scenarios, these are some first examples of self-driving technology being used to boost the greater good.
-- Pete Bigelow