A self-driving delivery van could prove to be mighty useful if developed properly

Given the direction the auto industry seems to be headed, we’re at a point where self-driving cars roaming our streets is far less improbable as it once was. Automakers like Tesla are pioneering this movement, and while the industry itself is still in the embryonic stage of this technological tipping point, enough progress has been made that ideas like self-driving delivery fans like the one Ford presented earlier this year are no longer being scoffed at. Heck, if Amazon can start using drones to deliver packages to its customers, there’s little reason to imagine a future without something like the Blue Oval’s “Autolivery” Concept.

First of all, this concept vehicle isn’t what you’d consider a traditional concept as defined by the auto industry. It’s futuristic in nature, sure, but it doesn’t provide anything concrete that can be adapted to real-world production cars of the future. Instead, the “idea” of the Autolivery Concept is the concept itself. It’s the idea of a self-driving van that works in concert with drones to deliver and transport everyday items on the ground, be it parcels, groceries, or even medical supplies. Think of it as a UPS van without a driver driving it. That’s the ethos of the Autolivery Concept, which takes its name from an amalgam of the words “automatic” and “delivery.” The concept itself is intriguing, in large part because of the potential of its real-world application. There’s no denying that there’s something inherently appealing about a delivery process that’s far more efficient than the ones we have right now and Ford aims for the Autolivery Concept to be a big part of reaching that solution.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Exterior

2017 Ford "Autolivery" Concept Exterior High Resolution
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2017 Ford "Autolivery" Concept Exterior High Resolution
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It literally looks like a box with four wheels on it, like a technologically advanced crate.

There’s nothing outwardly exciting about the appearance of the Ford Autolivery Concept. It literally looks like a box with four wheels on it, like a technologically advanced crate. One end is slated outwardly though so you could describe it as a van of sorts, too. Based on previews of its functions, the concept van features upward sliding windows on its glass surface where packages can either be put into the van or released back outside where a drone takes it from the curb and delivers it to the customer’s front door.

There’s admittedly a lot of technological wizardry at play here and properly describing it is a little tricky. What I can say, though, is the Ford Autolivery Concept is an intriguing innovation, even if the thought of an army of autonomous vans and drones delivering packages everywhere is still a little jarring to think about.

Interior

2017 Ford "Autolivery" Concept Exterior High Resolution
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There are no seats because the van doesn’t need them. There’s no steering wheel either, and forget about finding a dashboard or a center console in it.

How do you even describe the interior of the Autolivery Concept? A good start would be by saying that it doesn’t have any of the traditional equipment you’d normally associate in a standard van. For starters, there are no seats because the van doesn’t need them. There’s no steering wheel either, and forget about finding a dashboard or a center console in it. It might not even have floor mats, which would be ground-breaking. (Right, Toyota?)

All joking aside, the interior of the Autolivery Concept is largely defined by what appears to be an elaborate storage mechanism that stows the packages for delivery. The mechanism is a lot like a vending machine where packages are kept in specific storage units and then these units rotate depending on which packages are all set to be received by the drone for what the delivery industry describes as the “final 15 meters,” from the curb to the customer’s front door.

Drivetrain

2017 Ford "Autolivery" Concept Exterior High Resolution
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The concept itself is autonomous so by definition, it’s not going to be powered by some kind of hybrid powertrain, much less a traditional combustion engine. As far as the specific details of this powertrain are concerned, that’s a question that only Ford, specifically Shanghai-based Ford designers Euishik Bang, James Kuo and Chelsia Lau have the answers to. I do suppose that since this is still a concept, the technology that will be used in powering this concept van is still, at the very least, being developed. That’s not to say that it will arrive at some point in the near future, but since the industry is leaning towards autonomous driving, don’t sleep on it happening. Maybe later than sooner, but still, it could happen down the road.

Competition

This section isn’t typically included in concept reviews, but since the main driving force behind this concept is also being used by other companies, it’s as good a place as any to compare what Ford’s Autolivery Concept is going to be relative to what others are offering, or at least developing in their own time.

Without diving into the specifics of what these entities are offering in the way of autonomous delivery systems, companies like Amazon is already working on drones that will be able to transport packages up to 15 miles from the time a customer orders them online. Likewise, shipping giant UPS is working on its own version of autonomous delivery through similar drones that can carry up to 10 pounds of items for up to 30 minutes. Even ride-sharing company Uber has been working on this front. A company named Otto even demonstrated an autonomous semi-trucks that hauled up to 50,000 cans of Budweiser 12 miles. Considering the size of the truck itself and the possibility of something going awry, Otto did have one human ride with the self-driving semi.

Conclusion

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Ford’s Autolivery Concept is still a ways away from being considered real-world, ground-breaking technology, but if the automaker does see the project through, costs, headaches and all, it could very well turn into the kind of technology that will redefine the entire shipping industry as a whole. Whether the project lives long enough to be considered seriously though is another matter entirely. The foundation is there for something special. Now, it’s on Ford to see if this foundation is strong enough to build something on top of it.

  • Leave it
    • * Still has plenty of work to do
    • * Don’t expect it the tech to be operational in the near future
    • * Hard for some to let go of the status quo

Press Release

For more than half a century, vans have played a key role in deliveries. Drones are a modern phenomenon. But, the two could work hand in hand to improve mobility in urban areas in one example of Ford’s vision for the “City of Tomorrow”.

Self-driving vans could quickly and efficiently transport everything from groceries, to urgently needed medical supplies on the ground, with drones potentially able to take to the air for the final leg of the journey to reach destinations inaccessible by car such as, high up in a tower block – or where parking would be difficult, impractical, or unsafe.

The innovative “Autolivery” concept, developed by a team of Ford employees for the company’s Last Mile Mobility Challenge, imagines electric self-driving vans used together with drones to pick up and drop off goods and packages in urban areas. The concept can be experienced through virtual reality headsets at Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry, in Barcelona, as part of Ford’s vision of the “City of Tomorrow”.

2017 Ford "Autolivery" Concept Exterior High Resolution
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The experience showed dinner party preparations, with a missing ingredient quickly ordered and delivered in time to add to the recipe. As new data reveals that motorists in Europe’s cities spent up to 91 hours sitting in congested traffic during 2016, the “Autolivery” service illustrates how new technologies could improve the lives of consumers with smart connected homes, and help to pave the way to a more sustainable future. *

“Ford has at its heart a culture of disruption and innovation designed to come up with solutions that put people first to save them time, money and aggravation, and also to make our cities easier to navigate and better to live in,” said Ken Washington, vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering, Ford Motor Company.

The Autolivery idea, one of many submitted by Ford employees to tackle the last mile challenge, paid particular attention to the challenge of the “last 15 metres” in goods delivery. Widely considered the most challenging part of the goods delivery process to automate, many companies are working on how to solve the complexity of delivering packages the last 15 metres, or from kerb to door. The pressure to solve this challenge is expected to increase globally in coming years with GDP growth, and a rise in local deliveries due to online sales.

2017 Ford "Autolivery" Concept Exterior High Resolution
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“While the scene shown today is not yet possible, ‘Autolivery’ suggests how our ongoing mobility research could enrich our lives in a more sustainable ‘City of Tomorrow’,” said Washington.

“The City of Tomorrow” envisages overcoming mobility challenges in urban environments, including gridlock and air pollution, to help people move more easily today and in the future. Roads could be converted into green space and parks, allowing for higher quality of life and healthier communities. The company regularly invites employees, entrepreneurs and start‑ups to develop innovations through hackathons and challenges. “Autolivery” was developed by Shanghai-based Ford designers Euishik Bang, James Kuo and Chelsia Lau who responded to Ford’s Last Mile Mobility Challenge – to come up with mobility solutions for urban areas.

“It’s all about making life in the city easier. The possibility of harnessing autonomous and electric vehicle technology with drones, to quickly and easily send and deliver parcels, could help to make life better for everyone,” said Bang. Also developed for Last Mile Mobility Challenge, and shown at Mobile World Congress, were the electric rideable platform Carr‑E and the folding electric tricycle TriCiti.

2017 Ford "Autolivery" Concept Exterior High Resolution
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Ford intends to have a fully autonomous, SAE level 4-capable vehicle for commercial application in mobility services, such as ride sharing, ride hailing or package delivery fleets, in 2021. It also expects continued growth in electrified vehicle offerings, to the point where they outnumber their petrol‑powered counterparts, in the next 15 years. Shared modes of transportation will continue to gain popularity, and connected communications between vehicles and infrastructure will grow.

“We are challenging ourselves to understand how people live, work and move in urban areas, to inform our research in mobility technologies and solutions,” Washington said.

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