Ford expands self-driving vehicle program to Washington, D.C.

Ford is bringing its autonomous vehicles to Washington, D.C., the fourth city to join the automaker’s testing program as it prepares to launch a self-driving taxi and delivery service in 2021.

Ford will begin testing its self-driving vehicles in the district in the first quarter of 2019. The company is already is testing in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Miami. 

Ford is a bit different from other companies that have launched autonomous vehicle pilots in the U.S. Ford is pursuing two parallels tracks — testing the business model and autonomous technology — that will eventually combine ahead of its commercial launch in 2021.

Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based company into which Ford invested $1 billion in 2017, is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. Meanwhile, Ford is testing its go-to-market strategy through pilot programs with partners like Domino’s and Postmates, and even some local businesses.

The testing program in DC will follow that same thinking, with an emphasis on job creation and equitable deployment. Ford says its autonomous vehicles will be in all eight of the district’s wards. Eventually, it will operate business pilot programs in all eight wards, as well . Ford has already established an autonomous vehicle operations terminal in Ward 5, where it will house, manage and conduct routine maintenance on the fleet and continue developing its vehicle management process.

Argo AI already has vehicles on DC’s streets, mapping roads in the first step toward testing in autonomous mode, the company said.

“Both Ford and district officials are committed to exploring how self-driving vehicles can be deployed in an equitable way across the various neighborhoods that make up Washington, D.C., and in a way that promotes job creation,” Sherif Marakby, CEO, Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC wrote in a Medium post Monday.

Marakby underscored a recent report by Securing America’s Future Energy that found autonomous technology could improve people’s access to jobs as well as retail markets.

Ford announced in July 2018 plans to spend $4 billion through 2023 in a newly created LLC dedicated to building out an autonomous vehicles business. The new entity, Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, houses the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams. The spending plan includes a $1 billion investment in startup Argo AI.