The future of delivery – drones and self-driving vans?

February 27, 2017

For more than half a century, vans have played a key role in deliveries. Drones are a modern phenomenon. But could they together work hand in hand to improve mobility in urban areas?


This is one possibility for our vision of the “City of Tomorrow” that is being demonstrated via virtual reality at Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry.


The innovative “Autolivery” concept, developed by a team of our employees for the company’s Last Mile Mobility Challenge, imagines using electric self-driving vans together with drones to pick up and drop off goods and packages. The concept could quickly and efficiently transport everything from groceries to urgently needed medical supplies.



Drones would help reach destinations inaccessible by car, such as high up in a tower block – or where parking would be difficult, impractical, or unsafe.


Visitors to the show in Barcelona who try the virtual reality experience will see how it could work for dinner party preparations, with a missing ingredient quickly ordered and delivered in time to add to the recipe.


“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, our vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering.


Re-thinking the city

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.


The Autolivery idea, one of many submitted by our 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.


“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.


Our “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.


“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.


Rise of the machines

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.


We intend 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. We also expect continued growth in electrified vehicles 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.