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Ford and the Port of London Gateway, operated by DB World, conducted a number of simulation experiments for self-driving vehicles, with the aim of demonstrating the advantages offered by these future technologies to those managing and operating large work sites.
The initiative is part of Ford’s Autonomous Driving Research Program, which is designed to help companies realize the benefits that autonomous vehicles can bring to their operations. The program was launched last June to explore the potential impact of self-driving vehicles on courier services and home delivery of purchases to customers. The DB World experience explored customer perceptions of viewing and dealing with self-driving delivery vehicles.
The main objective of the pilot program is to identify new opportunities and models for future operations that will rely on autonomous vehicles, based on exploring the nature of current operations and the ways potential users interact with automated vehicles.
“We have seen a great response from the DB World team to work on autonomous vehicles,” said Richard Balch, Director of Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility at Ford of Europe. We will continue to work closely with our customers to explore solutions that these vehicles can provide and thus add value to their business. We were pleased with the direct impact these vehicles had on DB World’s operations across a variety of worksites. We can say that the results that we were able to achieve through this experiment can be generalized to other large work sites such as universities, airports and industrial facilities.”
Ford continues to test autonomous driving technologies in major cities across the United States in partnership with Argo AI. The company plans to invest about $7 billion (€6.02 billion) in autonomous vehicles over the 10 years to 2025, of which $5 billion (€4.3 billion) from 2021 onwards, as part of its mobility initiatives.
The Port of London Gateway, operated by DB World, is one of the fastest growing ports in the United Kingdom. It is located 40 kilometers to the east of central London, and relies on advanced automated technologies that are a major part of its operations, such as the deep sea container port.
For the experiment, a custom-designed Ford Transit was used to simulate an autonomous vehicle and contained a driver hidden inside a traditional car seat, as the company’s front desk staff loaded packages into secure lockers at the back of the transit. Subsequently, a self-driving Ford Transit vehicle, on scheduled delivery times, headed to the main reception desk, 3.5 kilometers away, where colleagues could collect the supposed orders. The staff collected the packages from the front desk themselves as usual. While these trips may take longer, they do not include a full-time driver.
The experiments included follow-up of all steps of the process by specialized researchers who interviewed the participants before, during and after the experiments. The follow-up results showed that the employees were quick to use the self-driving truck specially equipped for this purpose. A number of the work team members were proactively trained on how to easily access the parcels to be received, while others were able to overcome challenges and difficulties that experts put before them, such as storing parcels in safes that do not belong to them.
For his part, Ernest Schulze, CEO of DB World UK, said: “The emergence of a vehicle that simulates self-driving vehicles in the workplace was well received by our teams, who all wanted to use it. It is true that getting in the car and heading to another place at the work site to receive a package may not take a long time, but the outcome of these trips over weeks, months and years may consume a lot of time and money.”
The Port of Tilbury, the Ford Dagenham facility and the Port of London Gateway, operated by DB World, together form the Thames Freeport. The UK government had allowed these partners to operate under the Free Ports System at the beginning of this year. The partners are currently working on submitting a feasibility study, and they were granted the Freeport Tax Site on November 19 and are in the process of obtaining official accreditation.
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