Ford heads to Miami for self-driving tests

Ford Motor Co. is heading for the sunshine after announcing plans to test its self-driving tech in Miami, Florida. In addition to the city of Miami, Ford will be working with three other interested parties — Lyft, Postmates and Domino’s — on a self-driving car initiative meant for the commercial market.

The quartet of companies plans to work on test initiatives to learn how customers react to self-driving or “semi-autonomous” vehicles. Ford placed a fleet of cars in the area some time back, tasked with “learning” the road and creating detailed maps of the area, which will be necessary to help the AI do its “self-driving” job.

The project allows Ford to be a boundary breaker, establishing the inaugural autonomous vehicle terminal in Miami. And that’s just the beginning for Ford. The company has big plans for its autonomous fleet operations, including a shuttle service and a host of other new ideas that, they hope, will effectively monetize self-driving tech in the next few years.

Ford’s VP of city solutions, John Kwant, told the Associated Press this is the time, and Ford is the company to make the self-driving commercial fleet vehicle happen in urban areas: “This is, I think, the future of any automotive company or mobility company. If a majority of the world’s population is going to be living in cities, we need to understand how to move those people around…”

But if Ford is really going to be the industry leader in autonomous tech, it has some catching up to do. GM has a program in the works that will begin testing autonomous vehicle tech in NYC later this year, and Nissan will have cut the ribbon on its program in Japan by the time this article is published.

Other urban testing grounds include San Francisco, Phoenix, and Singapore. Each of these initiatives is being run by Waymo, Google’s autonomous vehicle offspring. Ford, though, is not just committing to the program, the company is committing to Miami, hoping to develop mutually beneficial solutions to infrastructure issues the city is already facing. Working together, the city and the automaker hope to solve these challenges.

As one of the top five most congested metro areas in the country, Miami is a good testing ground for this tech. Moving people easier and faster and safer is a huge priority for local city planners, and Ford believes self-driving cars may be part of the solution.

The plan is a dual-edged sword, however. If Ford is successful, they may see fewer cars being sold, because fewer people need them. That’s part of the overall equation Ford is trying to solve. But first, they need to see if their program is viable, then convince consumers it really works.

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.

Ronn Torossian and Kristaps Porzingis