Ford has announced a new partnership with Walmart to test autonomous vehicles in Miami for delivery of everyday items like groceries, diapers and pet supplies. The automaker is also developing a program, set for launch within three years, to allow riders to hail a self-driving Ford with an app.
CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave got early access to the cars. A safety driver sits up front and keeps their hands on the wheel, but the car does the driving. The on-board technology is still being refined before actual passengers will be allowed to hail a ride by 2021.
Ford invested $1 billion in Pittsburgh-based Argo, a startup that some say is on a mission to save Ford's future. More than 2,000 miles away from Silicon Valley, it built the technology that powers Ford's self-driving ambitions.
"This is really a disruption to our current business model. We are disrupting our own business. We're looking at ... fewer cars and better ideas," said Ford brand and marketing director Amy Marentic.
In Miami, Ford partnered with Dominos and Postmates to test vehicles that will one day make autonomous deliveries, to learn how people will respond.
"Every time we do a delivery we learn something new. We learned that they really like the fact that they don't have to tip an autonomous vehicle," Marentic said.
Autonomous vehicles are estimated to become a $7 trillion dollar business by 2050 and save more than half a million lives on the roads by reducing accidents.
But in March, a self-driving Uber SUV hit and killed a woman. Argo believes its technology would have avoided the crash.
"I'm very confident that the car will do the right thing just because of how we've designed the system," said Argo CEO Bryan Salesky.
That's important, said CNET Road Show's Tim Stevens, because this could be the future not only for Ford, but for transportation in general.
"I don't think you necessarily need to be first, but you certainly need to have a plan in place and some technology in place," Stevens said.
The next phase will be to expand autonomous operations to a second city -- Washington, D.C. Eventually, Ford plans to put passengers in the back seat and begin autonomous deliveries.
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