A driverless delivery trial has taken place at one of the UK’s fastest growing ports, DP World London Gateway.
The research trial looked to discover if autonomous vehicles could reduce the amount of driving employees at large worksites need to do to retrieve packages.
As part of Ford’s wider Self-Driving Research Programme, which is designed to help businesses understand how autonomous vehicles could benefit their operations, the DP World trial tested how recipients managed when accessing a self-driving delivery vehicle themselves.
According to Ford, the key to the demonstration was its specially adapted Transit fitted out to mimic the look of an autonomous vehicle – the driver is concealed within a “Human Car Seat”. This vehicle was also used in its first driverless deliveries trial with Hermes earlier this year.
Employees at DP World’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 3.5km away so that colleagues there could retrieve them.
Staff normally collect packages from reception themselves. While time consuming, these trips do not warrant a full-time driver, according to the company. The simulated self-driving van gave DP World staff a glimpse of autonomous deliveries, and the project added they quickly became comfortable with using the specially equipped van.
“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,” said Ernst Schulze, UK chief executive of DP World.
Ford added its underlying intention behind the 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.
“It was incredible to see how enthusiastically the team at DP World embraced working with the support of a self-driving vehicle. What worked so well at DP World premises could equally be of benefit at universities, airports and manufacturing facilities,” said Richard Balch, director, autonomous vehicles and mobility, Ford of Europe.