A project between Ford and DP World London Gateway has shown how autonomous vehicle technology could be used in worksites such as ports.
The trial, which is part of Ford’s self-driving research programme, saw employees at the port both load and access parcels directly to and from a simulated autonomous vehicle without any assistance from a driver.
Richard Balch, director, autonomous vehicles and mobility at Ford of Europe, said: “It was incredible to see how enthusiastically the team at DP World embraced working with the support of a self-driving vehicle.
“We are continuing to work very closely with our customers to learn how these vehicles can benefit their businesses and it is exciting to see first-hand the impact this can have across a diverse range of locations.
“What worked so well at DP World premises could equally be of benefit at universities, airports and manufacturing facilities.”
DOP World London Gateway – one of the UK’s fastest growing ports – is located 25 miles east of central London and already uses automated technology as an intrinsic part of its operations as a deep-sea container port.
For the trial, Ford used a specially adapted Transit fitted out to mimic the look of an actual self-driving vehicle with a driver concealed within a ‘human car seat’.
Employees at the company’s reception building loaded packages into secure lockers in the rear of the Transit.
Then, at set delivery times, the Transit travelled to the main reception two miles away so colleagues could retrieve them.
In the normal way, staff currently retrieve packages from reception themselves. While time-consuming, these trips do no warrant a full-time driver.
Every step of the process was monitored by researchers who conducted interviews with those who took part, before, during and after the trial.
They found employees quickly became comfortable with using the van. Some proactively trained colleagues to access their packages, while others were resourceful in overcoming difficulties intentionally introduced by the researchers, such as the wrong parcels being stowed in the wrong lockers.
Ernst Schulze, UK chief executive of DP World, said: “Having what appeared to be a self-driving vehicle on site created a real buzz.
“Everyone wanted to use it. Popping in the car to pick up a package from elsewhere on site might not seem like it takes that long, but across multiple journeys over weeks, months and years, this can add up to a lot of time and money.”
The aim of Ford’s self-driving research programme is to identify new opportunities and models for autonomous vehicle operations, in particular understanding how existing processes and human interactions can work alongside automated vehicles.