Ford will begin testing self-driving cars in a new city in 2018

Ford is ramping its autonomous vehicle program in 2018, with plans to expand testing its cars in a new city this year. This will serve a number of purposes, including helping partner autonomous platform partner Argo AI build out its self-driving tech, as well as helping to research further its dedicated AV vehicle design requirements. But it’s also going to allow Ford to test its new partnership platform, which is now ready for testing and which allows partners to offer services using Ford’s autonomous vehicle fleet.

Ford’s early partners for its AV service platform include Domino’s, Lyft, and, as of today, Postmates. The idea is that Ford will eventually launch and operate its fleet of autonomous vehicles, and that partners including those listed above will be able to essentially plug into the fleet and use it as they would their current delivery drivers and vehicles, with communications protocols and intelligent dispatch built into Ford’s vehicle management system.

Basically, this will mean that Ford can use its cars for delivering goods and packages, picking up and transporting passengers (and even supplementing public transit system), and sending out food, all with the same cars. One of the purposes of the platform test is to figure out partner needs in terms of configuring the vehicles specifically for each role, and managing allocation of available AV resources for each.

Ford isn’t saying yet which city will prove its new testing ground for its autonomous fleet (it’ll have more on that subject as the plan matures later this year), but it did confirm to me that the city selected will also be one where it plans to eventually deploy its fleet in a commercial capacity, too.

In addition to new partner Postmates, Ford will be testing further with existing partners Lyft and Domino’s, and already it’s gleaned some insights from the latter two, including learning that many of its early users of the Domino’s autonomous delivery service say “bye” to the driverless car and enjoy interacting with its voice powered instructions interface.