Ford has starting trialling a last mile parcel delivery concept in London with Gnewt Cargo which uses pedestrian couriers to take packages to their final destination.
It’s one of a number of mobility initiatives currently under development, according to the person overseeing the Ford Mobility division, Sarah-Jayne Williams.
“We are conscious that with more people moving to cities, cars aren’t the most appropriate way to get around,” Williams said.
“We have too many vehicles with one occupant. It’s a problem that needs to be solved.”
Ford is working on four solutions: Autonomic, Mode:Link, Spin and Argo AI.
“Last mile distribution is the most interesting challenge. Key is the software,” said Williams. “We have a live trial with Gnewt Cargo where our software sorts the parcels into vans and works out the optimal route to take. The hypothesis is: can we take what five vans do and do the same with one vehicle and five people walking?”
The trial started in February, initially for three months to test the feasibility and business viability, and is the result of a two-year research programme.
Ruth Tilsley is the project lead. “Mode:Link is about using the right vehicle on the right road,” she said. “A van is brilliant when full and travelling fast on an A road. But it’s not as efficient on a narrow road, one-ways and traffic lights. Pedestrian partners are faster.”
Each van makes drop-offs at set points around the city with walking couriers collecting the parcels. Ford believes it will reduce congestion and pollution.
“A single van can deliver more parcels and constantly move around the city,” Tilsley adds.
In January, Ford acquired Autonomic, which brings together all forms of transport and travel modes under the Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC). It connects the city infrastructure, vehicles, public transport and scooters with apps to provide continuous information about the best way to get about.
TMC also allows real time analysis of connected vehicle data which, according to Autonomic CEO Gavin Sherry, “enables continuous feedback from the vehicle, the owner and passengers”.
He believes this can be used by manufacturers and dealers to improve the user/owner experience.
Meanwhile, in the US, Ford is piloting an electric scooter scheme called Spin in conjunction with a number of cities. Williams hopes it can be introduced to the UK – e-scooters are currently banned on UK roads and pavements – and highlights the recent Department for Transport announcement that it is looking to review transport laws.
“We have found that people are less worried about using a scooter than they are a bike in the city,” she said.
The final project is to bring to market an autonomous vehicle for commercial operation by 2021. Ford is working with Argo AI, which is developing the software that is being integrated into a purpose-built car. The vehicles will be used for ride hailing and delivery services.
Ford is matching its initiatives to the global speed of change towards alternative mobility options which is triggering pedestrian zones, encouraging active movement, removing diesel, reducing speed limits and switching the balance away from cars being the dominant force.
“It’s the shared street concept. Within that context, the goal is to take vehicles out of the city centres and if we want to continue to play a role in mobility, we have to focus on these solutions,” said Williams.
However, she is candid enough to admit that there will be casualties. Ford closed the Chariot on-demand shuttle service just two years after buying the business because it wasn’t viable.
“It was our first foray into mobility. The premise was if you take people out of their own transport and into shared, you take vehicles off the road,” Williams said.
“Ford Telematics came out of the initiative and we also had learnings for our autonomous vehicle business. We also better understand the challenge it takes to run a service.”
She added: “However, we could see that it wouldn’t be sustainable for the future.
“It is very unusual for a car company to start up and close down (a business), but we think it’s the way it will be with some of these new initiatives.”