Hermes have announced that they are trialling self-driving vans in Oxford. The courier company is the first customer to take part in an early stage trial with Ford, Europe’s market leader in commercial vehicles, to make city deliveries more efficient and sustainable in the future.
Ford’s new ‘European Self-Driving Vehicle Research Programme’ has been designed to help businesses in Europe understand how autonomous vehicles can benefit their operations. The two-week trial will use a specially adapted Ford commercial vehicle featuring sensors that mimic the look of an actual self-driving vehicle, while enabling an experienced, hidden driver to ‘drive’. The research aims to better understand how other road users would interact with an apparently driverless delivery van.
The driver will play an entirely passive role, simply driving the vehicle. Pedestrian couriers will support the delivery van equipped with a smartphone app that lets them hail the vehicle and remotely unlock the load door after it is safely parked at the roadside. Once inside, voice prompts and digital screens will direct the courier to the locker containing the parcels to be delivered.
The research vehicles will enable Hermes to understand how their teams could work alongside driverless vehicles ensuring that business processes are able to continue safely without a driver present.
Hermes are not the first company to involve itself with self-driving vans. Over the last few years, many companies have come forwards with their ambitions to automate delivery vehicles but we haven’t really seen or heard anything new. Perhaps the pandemic stalled things on that front but with the possible dangers around self-driving cars, it’s no surprise that testing would be extensive.
The scary reality with automated vehicles is the risk to other drivers and pedestrians, the technology is still fairly recent and testing them on public roads is a necessity for adequate development. If there wasn’t any worry about driverless vehicles being dangerous they wouldn’t be sent out with people inside. As reported in 2018 a pedestrian was killed in Arizona by a Tesla driver who didn’t have his hands on the wheel, if humans can’t act fast enough in life or death situations, what happens when a human isn’t inside?