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Ford expands its autonomous driving program to Texas

USA: Ford may soon deploy self-driving cars in Austin. The Texas capital would join cities like Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. as a testing location for Ford, which plans to launch a production autonomous car in 2021.

Ford has taken a more pragmatic approach to deploying self-driving cars than rival companies. While others focus mostly on the vehicles themselves, Ford is trying to develop everything needed to make autonomous cars into a profitable business.

Rather than being sold to individual buyers, Ford’s production self-driving car will be used in ride-hailing and delivery services. Other companies are planning similar uses; Waymo is already operating a ride-hailing service in Arizona. But Ford is looking at the more mundane things, from managing and maintaining a large fleet of vehicles to interacting with customers, needed to launch such services.

The Blue Oval has forged partnerships with Domino’s, Postmates, and Walmart to test delivery services. It has even deployed fake autonomous cars to see how customers react to a delivery service that takes humans out of the loop. In Miami, Ford built a dedicated autonomous-vehicle terminal that could serve as a prototype for other facilities if self-driving cars do become mainstream.

If Ford deploys self-driving cars in Austin, it will likely follow a similar pattern to the cities where the test program already operates. That means using prototype autonomous cars in pilot delivery services, and having startup Argo AI map local roads to ensure smoother operations.

Ford faces plenty of competition from tech companies and other automakers, including its old rival General Motors. GM’s Cruise autonomous-driving division is looking to double its staff and will soon launch a delivery pilot program with DoorDash.