As part of its push to leverage the company’s autonomous vehicle research, Ford could be plotting to remove the driver from delivery trucks.
The news comes on the heels of our report last week that the automaker plans to produce a fully self-driving cars in just five years from now.
In a report by Trucks.com, Raj Nair, Ford’s chief technology officer and director of global product development spoke of the company’s vision.
“We believe autonomous vehicles and the automation of the driver will be a significant change, perhaps as significant as the moving assembly line,” Nair said.
Several possible markets for Ford’s self-driving technology are being considered, Nair said, including delivery and car-sharing services.
While not providing specific details about what products could be used, they include Ford’s Transit Connect and larger Transit vans, trucks that are already in use by delivery fleets and small businesses.
In regards to the significant cost increase of driverless vehicles compared to conventional vehicles, Nair said, “If you look at the business structure, the highest cost is the driver. So it makes a lot of business sense if you can automate the driver.”
Other car companies developing self-driving technology, such as General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan, believe human drivers need to be behind the steering wheel to serve as a backup.
Nair disagrees, saying that the driver needs to be eliminated entirely.
The longer a human sits behind the wheel doing nothing, the riskier it gets, he told Trucks.com.
“You lose driver awareness, lose driver situational response,” he said. “You lose the ability for a human to respond in a timely manner.”
Over time, not having to pay a driver will help defray the additional cost of autonomous trucks plus, it helps solve a big problem of the trucking industry; a shortage of drivers.
Ford isn’t the only company looking at driverless delivery trucks. Earlier this year Google was awarded a patent for an “autonomous delivery platform.”
Google’s version has the recipient walking to the truck and unlocking a locker via a credit card and removing the package.
That might work well in Southern California in January, but folks in cold and snowy New England and the upper Midwest might not like it.
In the fierce battle to market autonomous vehicles that has erupted, we’ll have to wait to find out if a carmaker or a tech company is the first to deliver a self-driving delivery truck.